More on the Real Impact of the ADA Amendments Act

The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), are now law.  The Act expands the definition of “disability” under the Americans With Disabilities Act. (ADA)  This is a reversal from the courts’ recent inclination to narrowly interpret the ADA’s coverage.  That trend, which has been positive for employers, began with a string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions starting in 1999. It seems, though, that the trend will end on January 1, 2009, when the ADAAA takes effect.


Under the ADAAA, the definition of “disability” will be expanded with the addition of several new rules of construction, including:

  • the term must be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals; 
  • an impairment need only substantially limit one major life activity; 
  • episodic impairments or impairments that are in remission are considered disabilities, so long as the impairment would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and 
  • the availability of mitigation measures, such as medication or treatment, is no longer relevant to the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.

The ADAAA also provides an extensive list of the tasks that are to be considered “major life activities.”  The list includes physical tasks such as walking, standing, and lifting; mental tasks such as learning, reading, and thinking; and even the operation of major bodily functions, such as immune system functions, cell growth, and reproductive functions.

Finally,the ADAAA eliminates a previously available defense in “regarded-as” cases.  Prior to the amendments, an employer could defend itself in a “regarded-as” case on the ground that the employee was regarded as having an impairment but not an impairment that qualified as a disability.  In other words, if an employee was terminated because his supervisor regarded him as having strep throat, there would be no ADA violation because the employee was not regarded as having a disability (assuming strep throat wouldn’t qualify). 

If you want to learn more about the ADAAA and its potential impact, HR Hero will be hosting an audioconference by Jonathon R. Mook on Thursday, October 30, 2008.  Registration information is available on at the seminar’s web page, ADA Amendments Act Takes Effect Jan. 1.

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