Today, the final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act take effect. One of the most important changes the regulations make is to the definition of “substantially limits.” The regulations draw no hard lines defining when a physical or mental condition substantially limit a major life activity (and therefore crosses the line to become a legally-protected “disability”). Instead, the regulations provide nine “rules of construction” to guide this inquiry. The HR Daily Advisor provides a nice summary of these rules (part one and part two).
In reality, though, one can summarize these nine rules into one general concept. While the regulations make clear that “not every impairment will constitute a disability,” because of the ADAAA’s expansive definition of disability, most will. Therefore:
The primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether an individual’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Accordingly, the threshold issue of whether an impairment ‘‘substantially limits’’ a major life activity should not demand extensive analysis.
(If you’re counting, this is the regulations’ third rule of construction).
In other words, employers should give up hope that they will be able to prove that an employee’s medical condition does not qualify as a disability. Instead, employers should focus their ADA compliance efforts on the two issues that now matter in these cases: avoiding discrimination and providing reasonable accommodations.