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Bringing Animals to Work as a Disability Accommodation

By Crismelly Caso

People with disabilities sometimes need a “service animal” to assist them with life tasks.  For example, people with impaired vision might rely on guide dogs for navigation, and those who suffer from seizures may rely on dogs for seizure warnings.  There are also “emotional support animals” to assist those with emotional or mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which apply to government buildings and public accommodations, respectively a “service animal” is defined as a dog (or a miniature horse) that is trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability.  This definition, however, does not include “companion animals” (pets), or “emotional support animals.”  Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not trained to perform specific tasks for their handler.  Under the ADA, owners of public accommodations are only required to permit service animals, not companion or emotional support animals.

Title I of the ADA, which applies to employment, however, does not make the same distinctions as Titles II and III.  Under the employment discrimination sections of the ADA, an employer may be required to allow an employee to use a service animal at work as a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disability.  Under the ADA, employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations that allow them to do complete their job duties, unless it would create expense or burden and given the size and resources of the employer.

If you need an accommodation to do your job, you must request one.  It is best to put your request in writing, so you have record of when you asked for it and what information you provided to your employer.  In your letter, you should describe your disability (whether physical or mental) and how it affects you.  As such, employees who suffer from an emotional or mental disorder are afforded the opportunity to explain to employers their need for a service animal that has been trained and the tasks or work their support animal does.  Your employer can request documentation of your need for the animal and the animal’s training and duties.

An employer may deny your request to bring your service animal to work if it would create undue hardship but cannot simply say, “We don’t allow dogs.”  The employer instead must show that allowing the accommodation—in this case, bringing an emotional support animal to work—would inflict a significant burden or cost.  Burdens that are specific to emotional support animals may include allergies, for example.  In the case that an emotional support animal accommodation is costly or disruptive, there are other solutions; such as moving employees away from each one another or arranging for the animal to remain elsewhere when all employees must interact (like during meetings).

Your employer can require that your animal does not disrupt the workplace.  The animal should be under control and well-behaved at all times.  Your animal should be clean, free of fleas and other parasites.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, or that you have asked for an accommodation that your employer has not granted you, contact The Harman Firm, LLP, today.

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