A bill amending the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by a landslide in the House of Representatives and will get a vote in the Senate soon. The changes are going to have a big impact for Human Resources pros.
The ADA Amendments Act was passed in the House by a vote of 402-17. A similar bill is being considered in the Senate. Given its widespread support and overwhelming victory in the House, experts predict it’ll pass in the near future.
It used to be called The ADA Restoration Act, but was renamed after a compromise gutted some of the most extreme makeovers to the law. The new version still makes some big changes, though. Here’s what it’s going to do:
Definition of ‘disabled’
One of the bill’s goals is broadening the definition of who’s considered disabled. As under the current ADA, a disability would be any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
But what’s a major life activity? The new bill includes a hefty, non-exhaustive list of examples: “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.”
A list of bodily functions that count as major life activities is included as well: “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.”
The bill also says conditions that are episodic or in remission are always considered disabilities if they would limit a major life activity when active.
No mitigating measures
The amendments would also reverse a Supreme Court decision that allows the consideration of “mitigating measures” — i.e., medicine or equipment that lessens someone’s impairments — when deciding whether an employee is disabled.
In other words, if someone has a serious health condition but takes medicine to eliminate its effects, he or she might still get legal protection.
Under the new law, glasses and contact lenses are the only “devices” that can be considered.
The bill contains a few changes to the protections for employees that are “regarded as” disabled. Most importantly, it forbids employers from discriminating against people they perceive to be impaired — even if the impairment wouldn’t substantially limit a major life activity.
In good news for HR, though, perceived impairments that are “transitory and minor” (i.e., lasting or expected to last less than six months) aren’t protected, and companies won’t be sued for failing to accommodate a perceived disability.
Those changes are scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2009.
What’s it mean for HR? Most importantly, more employees are going to be offered protection under the law. Now’s a good time to make sure managers are trained on how to accommodate disabled employees and avoid the appearance of disability discrimination.
We’ll keep you posted as the bill moves forward in the Senate.