On Dec. 14, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued 14 new answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about what employers may or may not do to comply with federal fair employment laws during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new FAQs specifically address the definition of “disability” and how to determine whether an individual with COVID-19 meets it under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
ADA and COVID-19 Background
Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees may face liability if they take certain adverse employment actions against individuals who have been diagnosed with or are believed to have COVID-19. The ADA also requires these employers to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, including any related to COVID-19. Smaller employers may be subject to similar rules under applicable state or local law.
The EEOC’s new FAQs clarify that COVID-19 may qualify an individual for ADA protection based on “actual” disability, a “record of” disability or being “regarded as” having a disability. Employers must perform an individualized assessment to determine whether a specific employee’s COVID-19 meets any of these definitions.
COVID-19 is an actual disability if it is a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The FAQs provide examples of situations in which an individual with COVID-19 would (and would not) meet this definition.
The FAQs also explain and provide examples illustrating how certain adverse employment actions may violate the ADA even if an individual only had COVID-19 in the past (“record of” disability) or is mistakenly believed to have COVID-19 (“regarded as” having a disability).
Action Steps for Employers
Employers with 15 or more employees should become familiar with and follow the guidance provided in the EEOC’s FAQs about COVID-19 and ADA compliance. These employers and all smaller should ensure that they comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws as well.
If you have questions related to this update, please contact your North Risk Partners advisor. Don’t have an advisor? No problem. We’ll help you find one.
This regulatory update is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.