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Service and Assistance Animals at Work

Accessibility, Assistance Animals, Employment

By Rose Daly-Rooney, DRAZ Legal Director

Today’s blog post—in honor of International Animal Assistance week—examines whether employers must allow employees or job applicants with disabilities to bring their service animal or assistance animals to work.

The employment rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) do not define service animal or assistance animal (to be referred to as, working animal) or have specific rules about them.  But the ADA does require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants with disabilities unless there is a heavy cost or administrative burden. Changing policies or rules in the workplace is one type of reasonable accommodation. Employees and applicants with disabilities who have working animals may request a waiver of a workplace’s no-pet rule as an ADA accommodation.

Employers must decide whether to approve any accommodation request (including a waiver of a no-pet rule) using an informal interactive process.  Linda Batiste, a consultant with the Job Accommodation Network(JAN), outlines the typical steps in the interactive process for an accommodation request for a working animal.

Request the accommodation

The employee or applicant asks to bring a working animal to work as a reasonable accommodation.  Sometimes, employees or applicants believe that the ADA’s service animal rules for public places apply and bring their working animal to work without advance approval.   When there is no prior approval for the service animal at work, an employer may choose to permit or refuse the service animal be at work until they make the accommodation decision.

Gather information

When the disability and disability-related need for the accommodation is obvious, no documentation may be required. When a disability and/or the disability-related need for the service animal is not obvious, the employer may ask the employee to provide documentation of the disability and/or need for a service or assistance animal at work.  Often, a healthcare professional can provide this information.

Exploring options

Employers may consider other options to accommodate the individual. JAN offers this real-life example.  An individual living with PTSD wanted a service animal at work because the animal was trained to alert him when someone was approaching from behind to avoid triggering an episode.  The employer preferred to install mirrors in the office.  However, in the interactive process the employer and employee discussed that monitoring mirrors would be too distracting from the job tasks. There, the employer approved the service animal at work.

Selecting the accommodation.

The ADA employment rules allow employers to choose among effective accommodations and provide a substitute accommodation when the employee’s preferred accommodation is more expensive or disruptive. However, allowing a service animal at work usually costs the employer nothing.

Training guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that when the employee makes the personal choice of managing their disability by having a service animal (as opposed to using a cane, for example) then the employer should generally agree to the employee’s preferred accommodation of a service animal at work.

Monitoring if the accommodation is working.

Issues or problems may arise that need to be addressed.  Although handlers are responsible for the care and cleanup of the working animal, logistics may need to be discussed, such as designated relief areas..

One of the most frequently asked questions is whether the employer may deny a reasonable accommodation to permit a working animal at work if another employee has an allergy or phobia. The EEOC states that if the service animal affects another employee because of a disability, the employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation to the other employee, such as a separate path of travel or alternatives to in-person communication between the two employees.

Pop Quiz:  May an employer deny an employee’s request solely because the working animal provides comfort only?  No, the ADA employment rules do not limit accommodations to service animals only.  The issue is whether the dog is a necessary reasonable accommodation because of disability.

For more information about service animals at work, visit JAN.

Check out these guides about writing a reasonable accommodation request and negotiating a reasonable accommodation with your employer.

If your employer denies you a reasonable accommodation for a working animal, you can file a charge with EEOC.


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