The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), originally passed in 1990, sought to open up employment in the private sector to persons with physical or mental disabilities who were otherwise perfectly capable of performing the required duties. The ADA brought to private enterprise what the 1973 Rehabilitation Act did for federal agencies and firms carrying out federal contracts.
Through the years, though, the Supreme Court kept nibbling away at the definition of disability to the point that the ADA lost almost all its teeth.
Voila–the Americans With Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAAA), signed into law this year by President Bush. The ADAAA clarifies exactly the intended definition of disability and throws in another category, “regarded as disabled.” Taken together, the two categories–disability and “regarded as disabled”–pretty much cover every human being alive.
In fact, the ADAAA basically states that employers should accept at face value an employee’s announcement of an impairment or disability that requires a reasonable accommodation. (There’s one out clause–if the accommodation involves “undue hardship” for the company and its operations, then it might not be considered “reasonable.”)
If you don’t believe me, read this definition of “regarded as disabled”: “[A]ctual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”
(Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.)
My question is this: If an employee, for instance, has sleep apnea and thus is tired in the daytime, would a “reasonable accommodation” include a sleep break or two or three? A specially cushioned chair so as to be able to drift off into slumber when necessary?
I’m only half joking, but I think you get the idea that the ADAAA has significantly broadened the scope of what constitutes a disability.
Meanwhile, I’m relying on my old friends at Personnel Concepts to keep me updated on all this. In fact, the company has already issued its ADAAA Compliance Kit.