The ADA Amendments Act has vastly expanded the range of medical conditions considered protected disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ailments previously considered minor, temporary, or those having a small effect on a person's daily life are now considered grounds for claiming employment discrimination. As an illustration of this expanded definition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued an opinion letter commenting that paruresis, or "shy bladder syndrome" can form the basis for an ADA claim.
Shy bladder syndrome involves the inability to urinate in public. If excretory functions are considered a major life activity, inability to normally urinate could be a substantial limitation of this function, therefore triggering ADA coverage and reasonable accommodation obligations for employers. Even if the paruresis is not significant enough to rise to this level, it would still be an "impairment" under the ADA, which would give rise to a "regarded as" disabled claim if the employee believes that he or she was subjected to adverse employment action on this basis.
Shy bladder issues arise most often when employees or applicants are asked to take drug tests. Previously, inability to provide a test sample could be grounds for termination or denial of employment. If the condition is considered an actual ADA disability, employers would be required to consider reasonable accommodations before making an adverse employment decision.
This EEOC position is an example of a number of physical and mental conditions that now must receive serious consideration by employers as possible disabilities. Any time that such conditions appear to relate to employee job performance, employers should carefully analyze their legal obligations before making decisions that could be viewed as adverse to the affected employee.