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More than two years ago President Bush signed into law the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which took effect in 2010.  The purpose of the law was to overturn a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and effectively expanded the scope of what constitutes a “disability” under Federal law.  Many believed the amendments overly broadened the statute, while others argued the amendments merely clarified the original intent of the law that the courts had neglected.

The law did not significantly change the requirements for California employers because California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) already defined “disability” more broadly than the ADA.

Some of the major changes added by the ADAAA include:

  • Clarifying that the ADA should be interpreted in favor of “broad coverage of individuals . . . to the maximum extent permitted” by the statute.
  • The addition of other examples of “major life activities” such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
  • Clarifying that employees who are “regarded as” disabled, but are not actually disabled, are not entitled to reasonable accommodations.
  • Modifying the “regarded as” prong of the definition of disability to not apply to conditions that are “transitory” (actual or expected duration of less than 6 months) or “minor.”
  • Requiring the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity to be made without regard to the use of mitigating measures (in other words, if the person did not take his/her medication would the individual’s medical condition substantially impair one or more life functions.

Despite the concerns expressed when the bill was passed, I have not seen a significant increase in the number of ADA cases brought to court.  I don’t know if it is just too early to tell, or I just don’t see the difference because the requirements on California employees and employers have not drastically changed.  Although I have not seen a significant rise in disability discrimination cases, it is still a frequently misapplied area.  I probably receive more phone calls about appropriate accommodations than any other area of law, with the possible exception of wage and hour questions.  If you have a question about disability discrimination or reasonable accommodations, speak with a lawyer familiar with the employment laws before the issue becomes a problem.

The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego
95 South Market Street, Suite 520
San Jose, CA 95113
Tel. 408-293-6341
Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.

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Phillip J. Griego represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.