EEOC Expands Definition of Disability

posted by Albert Rizzo  |  Jun 16, 2011 05:37 AM [EST]  |  applies to New York

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued final rules, effective May 24, 2011, interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. The new rules broaden coverage under the Act and change the focus from whether an employee has a disability to whether the employer has satisfied its obligation to accommodate a disability.

Until now, it was generally accepted that the determination of whether a particular condition constituted a legal disability was dependent upon an “individualized assessment.” Under the new regulations, however, the EEOC lists a number of conditions that will “virtually always” constitute a disability, including, for example, cancer, diabetes, HIV infection, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The rules also specify that a disability of any duration may be a covered disability, which would include episodic conditions and conditions that are in remission.

Greater protection is also afforded employees who are “regarded as” disabled. These employees are protected if the employer has a perception that the employee has an impairment—regardless of whether the impairment is perceived as an actual disability.

The Amendments Act of 2008 and the new EEOC rules are an attempt to reverse a series of relatively recent Supreme Court decisions that placed greater restrictions on the rights of individuals with disabilities. There is no question that now employers should interpret the concept of “disability” broadly, and that the focus of the employer should be less on whether or not the employee is disabled and more on whether it has policies and procedures in place to reasonably accommodate the disability.

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