Managing Disabilities and Leaves of Absence Under the New ADA and FMLA

October 26, 2011

Managing employees with medical conditions and disabilities compels employers to navigate the elaborate and confusing legal web that involves the interplay between the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and similar state laws. Given the ADA Amendments Act’s (“ADAAA”) compelling expansion of the definition of disability, employers will need to be more careful than ever when making decisions regarding employees and applicants with physical or mental impairments. Under the new law, employers will face an increasing number of requests to accommodate, and those requests likely will involve more and varied types of accommodations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) expectations are high with regard to how much an employer must do, how quickly the employer must act, and how proactive the employer must be. Employers should expect an increase in disability discrimination litigation as the margins of the law are tested. Due to the expanded definition of disability coupled with Congress’ expectation that courts will shift the focus of their inquiry to the question of whether an otherwise qualified disabled person has experienced discrimination rather than the threshold issue of coverage, many more disability discrimination claims will survive summary judgment and be sent to trial.

This article explores how the ADAAA and its implementing regulations have significantly altered the disability discrimination landscape, by discussing the expanded definition of disability, the courts’ application of the new definition in practice, and the EEOC’s aggressive enforcement initiative regarding reasonable accommodation. It further explores the ADAAA’s impact on eligibility for leave under the FMLA, as well as other noteworthy case law developments under the FMLA.