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On January 1, 2009, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008  becomes effective. This new law is designed to undo several Supreme Court decisions and thereby broaden the number of individuals who can seek protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers employers with 15 or more employees. Many state human rights statutes have lower employee thresholds, and courts in such states often follow federal standards under the ADA as applicable to their state statute. The amendments are intended to focus employers' attention on addressing obligations under the ADA related to the interactive process, without first devoting extensive analysis as to whether an individual has a qualifying disability. The amendments include the following highlights:

  1. Employers must assess whether an individual is disabled without considering the corrective nature of mitigating measures (such as blood pressure medication), except for glasses or contacts.
  2. An employer cannot use as a qualification standard a test on uncorrected vision, unless such test is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
  3. An impairment that is episodic or in remission constitutes a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity while active.
  4. An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability.
  5. The list of "major life activities" is expanded to include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working; as well as major bodily functions such as the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.  
  6. The "regarded as disabled" standard is lowered to prohibit adverse action because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment, whether or not such impairment is perceived to limit, or actually limits, a major life activity. The only exception to this relaxation of the "regarded as disabled" standard is for impairments that are transitory (less than six months) and minor.
  7. Covered employers under Title I, Title II public entities, and persons owning, leasing, or operating a place of public accommodation, need not provide individuals who are "regarded as disabled" with a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification to policies.
In sum, the amendments will make it easier for employees to prove they have a qualifying disability, and employers will be expected to emphasize the interactive process without undertaking a detailed analysis of whether an employee has a qualifying disability.