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Monday, January 12, 2009

What do the recent ADA amendments really mean to employers?

A lot of ink has been spilled about the nuts and bolts of the amendments to the ADA. The amendments make some key fundamental changes to various definitions in the statute, such as to the definition of disability. So, for example, mitigating measures are no longer to be taken into consideration when determination whether an individual has a “disability.” (For more information on the ADA Amendments Act, see House overwhelmingly votes in favor of ADA Amendments Act of 2008).

Much of the ADA Amendments Act, though, is legal minutiae that may be of interest to employers litigating ADA lawsuits, but of little interest to employers running their businesses on a daily basis. Provided that job descriptions are up to date, supervisors are trained on reasonable accommodations and interactive processes, and employees are receiving appropriate accommodations, employers’ day-to-day experiences under the ADA should not change all that much.

So, what then will change? For businesses, the most significant change will be in the cost of defending ADA lawsuits. Most agree that the changes to the definition of disability will make it harder for employer to win dismissals of ADA cases on summary judgment. Because fewer cases will be summarily dismissed, more cases will go to juries for resolutions. This higher incidence of jury issues in ADA cases will increase both defense costs and settlement value in these cases. Because of the potential for increased costs, businesses should be prepared to be extra-vigilant in their handling of employees with potential disabilities.