Weekly HR News - ADA - What is a disability? Part 2/3

Weekly HR News – FMLA

Employment Discrimination – Americans with Disabilities Act – Part 2 of 3

What is a disability?

Title I of the ADA and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act cover local government employers with 8 or more employees.  The ADA prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees who meet the statute’s definition of a “qualified individual with a disability.” The ADA defines a “disability” in three ways:

Major life activities are functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.  For example, a person who is a blind may be substantially limited in the major life activity of seeing.  On the other hand, a person who has vision problems that are corrected with glasses, is not considered to have a disability if the use of ordinary lenses results in no substantial limitation to a major life activity.

A record of an impairment means that the individual has a history of, or has been misclassified as having a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities as set out above.  For example an employee had cancer ten years ago and at that time they were unable to work or to take care of themselves; however, they have since been cancer-free for eight years. This person applies for a promotion that she is qualified to do; however, the employer refuses to consider this person because they are concerned the employee will get sick again and will have to miss work. This employee is covered under the section which states having a “record of such an impairment.”

Lastly, the Supreme Court has ruled that although an individual may not have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, the reactions of others may prove just as disabling.  This is what is meant by being regarded as having an impairment.  For example, the city fires an employee from a position because they heard that the employee has AIDS. When in fact, the employee does not have AIDS.   In this case the employee would be covered under the section of “being regarded as having an impairment.”

Trying to decipher whether or not an employee has a disability under one of these definitions can be extremely difficult task.  Making the wrong decision can be very costly, so we recommend that you seek the advice of your city attorney whenever an ADA issue arises. 

For additional information on the ADA go to http://www.ada.gov/ and http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/performance-conduct.html.  Questions regarding the ADA or any other personnel matters can be directed to Andrea Shindlebower.