Don’t Hold Your Breath for the New ADA Rules

The January 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act expanded the scope of the definition of “disability” to include far greater numbers of employees with impairments.  Since that time, we have all been waiting for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to re-write the regulations interpreting the ADA to conform to this new law.  Proposed regulations were issued in September 2009, but they have not yet been finalized.

And according to a recent speech by an EEOC official, we shall wait longer.

According to BNA’s Americans with Disabilities Act Manual (Vol. 19, No. 8), Senior Attorney Advisor Sharon Rennert of the EEOC’s ADA Division said the Commission is still processing comments about the proposed regulations.  The EEOC received in excess of 650 comments from employers, disability organizations, and labor unions.  The EEOC was also delaying finalization until all five EEOC Commission slots were filled, which was achieved this summer.

In the meantime, BNA reports that the EEOC is advising employers to “play it safe” and follow the proposed regulations.  The EEOC received 10 percent more ADA charges in 2009, and this was the only category of discrimination in which the EEOC saw a significant increase in charge filings.

The Bottom Line for Employers:

Not surprisingly, according to EEOC Attorney Advisor Rennert, the EEOC’s focus has shifted away from whether or not a person is disabled and to issues of reasonable accommodation, direct threat, and medical exams and inquiries.  Even before these regulations are finalized, it is vital that every employer put in place a standardized process for addressing employees’ medical issues and requests for accommodation of those issues.  In short, don’t follow the government’s example of delay.