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Driving a Major Life Activity Under the ADA?

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 11/20/2008
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One of my employees was recently diagnosed with a form of epilepsy that makes it unsafe for him to drive his delivery truck. Does this employee’s inability to drive due to his epilepsy entitle him to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability. The ADA, which generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Under this definition, protection under the ADA hinges on whether an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity is substantially limited by the impairment. The regulations interpreting the ADA state that major life activities are those basic activities that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty, including caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

In this situation, determining the employee’s eligibility for protection under the ADA requires a determination of whether driving is considered a major life activity. Recently, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals joined the Second and Eleventh Circuits in holding that, despite its importance in today’s society, driving is not, in and of itself, a major life activity. Accordingly, it does not appear that the individual in this situation is protected by the ADA. However, the recently passed ADA Amendments Act of 2008 may compel courts to rule differently on this issue when it becomes effective on January 1, 2009 because the list of major life activities has been expanded. Until the ADA Amendments Act undergoes judicial interpretation, however, it will be difficult to gauge the precise scope and impact of the amendments. Thus, it would be wise for employers to familiarize themselves with the new law by consulting a licensed professional.

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