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EEOC Final Regulations Implementing ADA Amendments Act Take Effect May 24, 2011

The ADAAA was enacted on September 25, 2008 and took effect on January 1, 2009. Its primary purpose was to broaden the scope of "disability" within the meaning of the ADA. The ADAAA specifically rejected two U.S. Supreme Court decisions construing the term and directed the EEOC to issue revised regulations easing the definition of when an impairment is "substantially limiting."

The EEOC's final regulations are now in effect, and have broadened the definition of "disability" even beyond what was set forth in the interim regulations. Employers must be aware that although the basic definition of disability remains unchanged-a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities-the definition of each of the component terms has been significantly broadened. Therefore, employers should not assume that an individual is not disabled without following steps of construction set forth in the new regulations.

The regulations set forth nine "rules of construction" for determining whether an individual is "substantially limited" in performing a major life activity. These include the fact that "substantially limited" is "not meant to be a demanding standard"; that the individual's ability to perform a major life activity should be compared with "most people in the general population"; that the determination must be based upon an individualized assessment; that the determination must be made without regard to the ameliorative effect of mitigating measures other than ordinary glasses or contact lenses (e.g., assistive devices or medication); that an impairment that is episodic or in remission (e.g., seizures or cancer) is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and that there is no durational minimum for an impairment to qualify as "substantially limiting."

The regulations additionally define "major life activities" to include numerous physical and mental functions, as well as broadening the definition of when an individual is "regarded as" having a disability for purposes of invoking the ADA's anti-discrimination protections.

A more detailed assessment of the ADAAA final regulations appears in the upcoming June issue of Wimberly Lawson's Briefly.

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