Significant Changes in Federal Disability Law


The Las Vegas Sun's Stephanie Tavares reports on important changes in federal anti-discrimination law, of which employers must be aware. Congress passed amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which went into effect on January 1.

The legislative and regulatory changes went into effect Jan. 1. They are expected to make it easier for employees to be classified as disabled.

The changes are expected to have a significant effect on human resources departments of businesses with more than 15 employees across the country.

Among those with restored rights are those with a disability that is episodic or in remission, such as seizures. Courts had ruled to exclude people with these types of disabilities.

It also restores protection to those with disabilities who take advantage of corrective measures such as prosthesis, medication, mobility devices, hearing aids, oxygen therapy, assistive technology, or those whose bodies or brains have adjusted to compensate for the disability.

The act basically redefines how a person with a disability is defined. Although the specific criterion is still being worked out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the legal community considers it likely the law will be applied similarly to state anti-discrimination laws in California, where disability is defined as something that makes it difficult to perform certain life activities.


The new law still protects employers, though.

Businesses will not be forced to keep on a disabled employee if he or she cannot do the basic functions of the job, even with accommodations. To ensure the company receives this protection, though, it must have up-to-date, detailed, and accurate job descriptions for all employees.

Businesses also cannot be forced to provide accommodations that would substantially harm the business or other employees.

Lawyers are speculating that in the current economic situation, juries will be tougher on businesses accused of discrimination, so it's important to follow the law.

In Nevada and other states under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it is still a violation of the act to fail to engage in the interactive process -- discussing an employee's limitations and potential accommodations -- with a disabled employee.