To maintain a claim under the Americans with Disability Act, a plaintiff must establish he has a disability. A disability may include a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
When the ADA was passed almost 25 years ago, the drafters envisioned disabilities being permanent in nature. In the Congressional Record, supporters of the ADA almost exclusively used blindness and wheelchair-bound conditions as examples of a disability. Typically, both are permanent in nature.
However, a temporary condition can be a disability as well. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting for purposes of proving an actual disability. It has also held that although impairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered, they may be covered if “sufficiently severe."
Consider these facts. An employee fell at work and injured both legs. He could not put any weight on one leg for six weeks and was not able to walk normally for seven months. Absent surgery and bed rest, the seven months might have been one year.
Did the employee have a disability? The court answered yes. It noted although the employee’s injuries were temporary, they rendered him immobile for seven months. The injuries were severe, and met the definition of a disability under the ADA.
This case evidences the more relaxed definition of disability under the ADA. Employers are expected to devote their time to considering reasonable accommodations, and not in determining whether the employee’s condition is protected by the ADA.