Effective May 1, 2011, the new EEOC regulations defining disability discrimination and accommodation rights will go into effect.  See 29 Code of Federal Regualtions, Part 1630.As a California employee rights attorney, I have studiously limited my disability cases to the rights provided under California law, which up to now has been more liberal in protecting employees.  Not so now.  The EEOC regulations largely expand employee protections to be those afforded under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act [FEHA].

In a nutshell, the regulations expand the definition of a disability qualifying for accommodation to be any condition that in some even slight way impairs a persons ability to perform work.  An impairment of “a major life activity” means an impairment of just about any function of thought or action, even when assistive devices or medications may ameliorate the effects of the condition.

The goal, explicitly stated by the EEOC, is to remove the usual bickering between employer and employee over whether the employee has a disability.  [Several conservative U.S. Supreme Court decisions defining “disability” under the A.D.A. were specifically targeted for reversal by Congress in directing the Commission to develop more liberal protections].

Now California disability discrimination lawyers, such as I, will have the option, if needed, to rely on the federal law as well as state law.  However, for those states having regressive, conservative, or even non-existant disability accommodation laws, these new federal regulations expand the rights of millions of Americans.