Understanding regulations around the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA) is essential for providing a welcome workplace for employees with disabilities and avoiding penalties for noncompliance. In this article, we’ll discuss the regulations and highlight a few resources to help you navigate them.


Disability as defined by the ADA and ADAAA

The ADA and ADAAA define “disability” as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity;
  • A “record” of having such an impairment; or
  • Being “regarded as” having such an impairment.

Under the ADA, employers are expected to make “reasonable accommodations” to assist employees with disabling conditions. The law defines a job accommodation as a reasonable adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform his or her job duties. The ADAAA clarified and expanded the “reasonable accommodation” requirement to allow employees with disabilities to request one or more of the following accommodations:

  • Time away: Even if they’re not eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Special equipment: Or other workplace modifications.
  • Change in job duties: Such as not working overtime.

Caution against the "100% rule"

Many employers are hesitant to bring employees back on the job until they’re functioning at “100%.” Some companies even require that medical personnel apply this “100% rule” before an employee can be cleared to return to work.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that:

“An employer will violate the ADA if it requires an employee with a disability to have no medical restrictions—that is, be ‘100%’ healed or recovered—if the employee can perform his or her job with or without reasonable accommodation unless the employer can show providing the needed accommodations would cause an undue hardship.

Similarly, an employer will violate the ADA if it claims an employee with medical restrictions poses a safety risk but it cannot show that the individual is a ‘direct threat.’ Direct threat is the ADA standard for determining whether an employee’s disability poses a ‘significant risk of substantial harm’ to self or to others. If an employee’s disability poses a direct threat, an employer must consider whether reasonable accommodation will eliminate or diminish the direct threat.”

Employers should carefully review this and all future updates from the EEOC to ensure they’re compliant with all regulations.

Help is available

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers a service called the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). This site has resources to help employers through the ADA accommodation process, assess legal issues and provide guidance on HR components. Learn more at www.dol.gov/odep/resources/JAN.htm

For more information about the ADA, ADAAA and outsourcing administration, read our Inside Track educational paper >