When the Americans with Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, employers commonly understood that the definition of a protected disability excluded impairments, even severe impairments, that were of a relatively short duration. In order to claim protection, plaintiffs had to demonstrate that their condition was permanent, chronic, or was expected to persist for an extended period of time.
In its new ADAAA rules, the EEOC appears to expand the ADA's coverage of short term conditions. The regulations refuse to adopt a specific duration requirement despite language in the underlying legislation that appears to allow the EEOC to limit disabilities to conditions lasting at least six months. The agency specifically rejects this interpretation, stating that impairments do not have to last any set length of time to qualify as ADA disabilities.
The only exception contained in the rules covers impairments that are both minor and transitory. The rules list several examples, such as the common cold, the flu, seasonal allergies, and sprains or broken bones expected to completely heal. This list does not exclude some commonly encountered medical conditions that may now be considered ADA disabilities.
For example, an employee is placed on bed rest for the final trimester of her pregnancy (assume she is not eligible for FMLA leave). This impairment is transitory by definition, but is it also minor? One could argue that mandatory bed rest substantially impairs a variety of major life activities and bodily functions.
As a result of this interpretation, employers need to consider conducting an ADA accommodation analysis when faced with short term impairments that previously were not considered subject to ADA jurisdiction. Although not identical, the EEOC's new disability definition approaches that of a Serious Health Condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act.