FACT OR FICTION: A temporary disability may be an ADA disability

Fact or Fiction?That’s right folks. It’s time for another edition of “Fact or Fiction” a/k/a “Quick Answers to Quick Questions” a/k/a QATQQ f/k/a “I don’t feel like writing a long blog post.”

Let’s assume that your employee breaks his leg. Doctors tell your employee that he won’t walk normally for seven months. Without surgery, bed rest, pain medication, and physical therapy, he “likely” won’t be able to walk for more than a year after the accident.

Bottom line: The employee will heal, but it will take some time.

But is your employee disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act?

According to this decision last week from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, yes:

The amended Act provides that the definition of disability shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under this chapter, to the maximum extent permitted by its terms….Although impairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered, they may be covered if sufficiently severe….Summers alleges that his accident left him unable to walk for seven months and that without surgery, pain medication, and physical therapy, he “likely” would have been unable to walk for far longer. The text and purpose of the ADAAA and its implementing regulations make clear that such an impairment can constitute a disability.

The decision should resonate with employers for several reasons:

  1. It is the first appellate court to apply the ADAAA’s expanded ´┐╝´┐╝definition of “disability.” And this is a typically conservative, employer-friendly court.
  2. This decision is consistent with the hidden message when you play Kanye West’s Yeezus album backwards EEOC guidance providing that an impairment lasting less than six months can constitute a disability.
  3. This really isn’t that close a call because the effects of the injury should have lasted more than six months.

So, the answer to today’s QATQQ is fact, and employers need to be more receptive than ever to accommodating employees with temporary injuries.