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Washington Labor & Employment Wire » EEOC Publishes Final ADA Regulations

EEOC Publishes Final ADA Regulations

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On March 25, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (”EEOC”) published its final revised regulations and interpretive guidance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (”ADA”). These revisions bring the Commission’s regulations into compliance with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (”ADAAA”), which explicitly invalidated certain prior EEOC regulations and several Supreme Court decisions interpreting the pre-2008 ADA.The ADA Amendments Act expanded the definition of “disability,” making it easier for an individual to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Accordingly, the EEOC’s final regulations, as with its prior proposed regulations, reflect a broadened understanding of what constitutes a “disability.” The regulations expand the definition of “major life activities” to include “major bodily functions,” such as breathing, cell reproduction, and immune system function. They provide that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is still considered a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active. Additionally, the regulations provide that mitigating measures, other than the use of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses, should not be considered when assessing whether an individual has a disability. The regulations further revise the definitions of “substantially limits” and “regarded as” to reflect this broader understanding of what constitutes a disability under the Act.

The final regulations go beyond the proposed regulations previously promulgated by the EEOC to include additional guidance on certain topics. This includes clarification that cases in which an applicant or employee does not require reasonable accommodation can be evaluated solely under the “regarded as” prong of the definition of “disability,” and that whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity is irrelevant under the “regarded as” prong. Further, the final regulations state that a covered entity is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual who meets the definition of disability solely under the “regarded as” prong.

General concerns were raised by employer groups about the inclusion of major life activities in the final regulations that were not listed in the statute, including specific concerns that the inclusion of “interacting with others” in the non-exhaustive list of major life activities would limit the ability to discipline employees for misconduct. The Commission declined to act on these concerns, noting that Congress provided that the lists of major life activity examples are non-exhaustive and that the Commission is authorized to recognize additional examples.

The final regulations also explain that the standard from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), for determining whether an activity qualifies as a major life activity (i.e., that it be of “central importance to most people’s daily lives”) no longer applies after the ADA Amendments Act.

In conjunction with the publication of the final regulations, the Commission has released two question-and-answer documents. The ADAAA regulations, the accompanying question-and-answer documents, and a fact sheet are available from the EEOC here.