Feds Broaden Workplace Protections To Include ‘Invisible Disabilities’
New rules expanding what qualifies as a disability for the purpose of job discrimination protections are set to be published Friday in the Federal Register.
While people with disabilities have long been protected in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, what qualified as a disability was often open to interpretation and ended up somewhat constrained by the courts. As a result, in 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act, which was designed to ensure a broader definition of disability.
Now, in final rules being published this week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is instituting new regulations to guarantee that a wider group of people are protected on the job.
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Specifically, the rules will change how the definition of disability — considered a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” — is interpreted.
Under the new regulations an impairment can qualify as a disability even if it occurs periodically, like epilepsy, and even if it does not prevent a person from conducting a major life activity such as self-care, walking or communicating.
“With the release of the EEOC’s regulations, employers across the country will have a clear set of guidelines and rules of the road to ensure equality for Americans with disabilities,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on the White House website about the changes. “This will help ensure civil rights protection for people with ‘invisible disabilities.'”
Though the regulations will not be published until Friday, they are considered applicable to claims dating back to Jan. 1, 2009 alleging that a company denied reasonable accommodations or otherwise discriminated on the basis of disability. The new rules apply to companies with 15 or more employees.