Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Proposed changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act

I was reading about proposed changes to the ADA (American's with Disabilities Act) at George's EmploymentBlawg, and couldn't help but wonder what enactment of those proposals would mean to trainers and HR development folks.

According to George, a St. Louis lawyer, minor impediments such as scars, near-sightedness and tennis elbow could be reclassified as disabilities, requiring employers to make allowances for employee's who claim these issues interfere with their work. Specifically, he cites:

The proposed ADA Restoration Act (H.R. 3195) is a bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The ADA Restoration Act would:

* Redefine the term “disability” to merely mean “a mental or physical impairment” [eliminating the requirement that it substantially limit major life activities].

* Forbid employers from considering the effects of mitigating measures an individual uses to manage his or her impairment.

* Shift the burden of proof in determining job qualification in disability discrimination cases to the employer from the employee. (Under current law, an employee is required to be able to perform the job in question before an employer must provide an appropriate accommodation. The proposed legislation would eliminate this requirement, and thus would force employers to prove that a disability discrimination plaintiff is not qualified.

While in theory, I think that accommodation is a great idea, and realize that current standards have resulted in some truly disabled workers facing long and costly hearings to receive appropriate adaptations, I can easily foresee a training nightmare if this legislation becomes law. Conceivably, human resource development professionals could be facing a need to develop and offer separate training programs for people with minor vision issues or common physical discomfort in ordinary office and/or classroom settings.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Have you read the legislation? Are you familiar with the issues that might arise? Add your comments, or link to your site if you've addressed these issues there.

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