What stays the same: The basic legal requirement that employers not discriminate against individuals with disabilities who are qualified for a job, with or without reasonable accommodations. The final regulations maintain the ADA’s definition of “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability.
What changes: How these terms are interpreted – with many more conditions falling under the definition of “disability.” For example, impairment doesn’t necessarily have to prevent or restrict performance of a major life activity to be considered substantially limiting. In addition, episodic impairments, such as epilepsy, are considered disabilities if they limit activity.
“Under the new law, the focus is on how the person was treated rather than on what an employer believes about the nature of the person’s impairment,” the EEOC stated at the time the regulations were announced.
As with the existing ADA rules, you should err on the side of caution. It’s best to assume that most employees with physical or mental impairments are covered under the ADA … and make every effort to cooperate with impacted employees. For guidance on the many nuances of the new ADA rules, check out the handy guide available on the ADA website.