Q & A – How do I know if an employee is disabled?

Q. How do I know if an employee is disabled?


A. The ADA defines disability in three ways:  the employee has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits him or her in the performance of one or more major life activities; the employee has a record (past history) of such impairment; or the employee is “regarded as” having an impairment.

Determining if an employee is disabled requires a case-by-case analysis of the effect of the impairment on the employee involved.  There is no list of covered impairments, and only a short list of impairments that are not covered.


The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) expanded the interpretation of what qualifies as a disability under the first of these definitions.  Whether someone is disabled is not an extensive analysis or a demanding standard.  Employers are expected to move past the determination of whether an employee is disabled to focus on whether the employee is otherwise qualified to perform the job’s essential functions.


Employers may require information from a medical provider to substantiate that a disability exists.