New guidelines expand definition of disability

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced new regulations March 24 making it easier for individuals to claim disability status and workplace protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the new guidelines, which apply to companies with 15 or more employees, individuals will no longer be required to prove their disability prevents or restricts a major life activity, according to an EEOC news release. The regulations will also cover individuals whose disabilities are episodic, such as epilepsy, or in remission, such as cancer. The guidelines clarify that the phrase “major life activities” includes “major bodily functions,” thereby ensuring disabilities such as HIV infections, diabetes and bipolar disorder, among others, fall under the definition of disability.

“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 Web site. “This will help ensure civil rights protection for people with ‘invisible disabilities.'”

Congress directed the EEOC to revise its regulations with the passage of the bipartisan Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008, which sailed through the Senate unanimously. The Act overturned a series of Supreme Court decisions narrowing the definition of disability.

“The Commission is to be commended for undertaking the hard work needed to reach bipartisan agreement that has been a hallmark of the Americans with Disabilities Act for the last two decades,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits of the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

The EECC obtained a record $76.1 million for violations from employers in 2010, according to its Web site.