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When Your Termination Is Because Of A Disability, Even If You Do Not Have A Disability

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The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42. U.S.C. 12101, et seq (the “ADA”) makes it illegal for most employers to terminate, or take other adverse actions, against an employee with a disability because of the employee’s disability. The obvious question then becomes, what constitutes a disability under the “ADA”? The ADA provides the following three alternative definitions of “disability”.

Under the first definition, an employee has a disability for purposes of the ADA if he or she has “[a] physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [the employee].” 1 When determining whether an impairment “substantially limits” a “major life activity”, the quoted terms should be interpreted broadly to encourage expansive coverage of the ADA. 2 Furthermore, if an individual’s impairment is episodic, the ADA considers the impairment a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity when active. 3


Under the ADA’s second definition of “disability”, an employee has a disability if he or she has a record of an impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the employee. 4 “An individual has a record of a disability if the individual has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 5 The rules governing the ADA also require a broad construction of this definition of disability to encourage expansive coverage by the ADA. 6


Finally, the ADA’s third definition of “disability” covers individuals that are “regarded as having such an impairment…” 7 An employee is “regarded as having a disability” when an employer subjects an employee to an adverse employment action “because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment, whether or not that impairment substantially limits, or is perceived to substantially limit, a major life activity.” 8


In sum, the ADA prohibits an employer from taking an adverse action against an employee because the employee suffers from an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, because the employee has a record of having such an impairment, whether or not the employee still has the impairment, and/or because the employer perceives the employee of having such an impairment, whether or not the employee has or ever has had such an impairment. As with any short essay concerning the law, there are a myriad of potential circumstances that can affect the foregoing analysis. A lawyer should always be consulted when an individual suspects that their ADA rights have been aggrieved.



1 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(g)(1)(i)

2 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(i)(2); 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(1)(i)

3 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(1)(vii); Haschmann v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 151 F. 3d 591, 600 (7th Cir. 1998); Gogos v. AMS Mechanical Systems, Inc., 737 F. 3d 1170, 1173 (7th Cir. 2013)

4 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(g)(1)(ii)

5 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(k)(1)

6 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(k)(2)

7 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(g)(1)(iii)

8 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(l)(1)