EEOC Steps Up Enforcement of Americans With Disabilities Act

Federal Agency Steps Up Enforcement of ADA

Over the last three months, officials at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have beefed up efforts to monitor and enforce the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (the "ADA"). An EEOC news release in October, 2014, advised employers and others that the agency sought "renewed effort to hire people with disabilities."

Statistics show that, since the EEOC began enforcing the ADA over 20 years ago, the number of annual EEOC claims filed on behalf of disabled persons has steadily increased, from 15,000 in 1993 to almost 26,000 in 2013. Officials at the EEOC say the agency intends to send "a clear message" that the provisions of the Act will be "vigorously enforced."

The commission’s actions are expected to apply not only to hiring decisions, but to decisions related to existing employees with disabilities. They also acknowledge that, at least in part, the renewed enforcement is designed to ensure that the provisions of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 are being followed by employers. Congress revised the ADA, effective January 1, 2009, to include diabetes, cancer and severe diabetes.

The federal Americans With Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, applies to private employers with 15 or more employees. Most states, including New York, have similar statutes that govern smaller employers.

The ADA prohibits discriminatory conduct toward "a qualified worker with a disability," and requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for qualified workers with a disability. Under the statute, an accommodation is reasonable if it does not impose "undue hardship" on the employer.

The ADA specifically defines what constitutes a disability under the act—a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." This can include fundamental tasks, such as speaking, communicating, walking, sitting or reading, as well as major bodily functions. The disability must be permanent for the provisions of the ADA to apply.

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