Service animals can help people who have disabilities carry out their daily activities. Specifically, dogs can be trained to perform many tasks to support people such as providing balance for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who is unable to do so, or preventing someone with a mental impairment from wandering away and becoming lost.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 and since then has been an effective tool in prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of daily life. The ADA protects people while they are at work, at school, on public transportation, and while at any public or private venue.
Under the ADA, a service animal is designated as a dog that has been trained to do work or to accomplish tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels.
Does the ADA Require Accommodations for Animals in the Workplace?
The ADA requires that covered entities – state and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations that provide goods or services to the public – make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures to support people with disabilities. Rules about service animals fall under this general principle.
This means that if a business has a “no pets” policy, the company may have to modify this policy to allow service animals into their facilities regardless of whether the animal belongs to an employee or a consumer. This is what is considered a “reasonable accommodation” under ADA employment standards.
Do ADA Regulations Cover Emotional Support Animals?
While the law is always evolving, service animals related to emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companionship are less likely to be seen as a reasonable accommodation. Of course, if an employer cannot establish any hardship in providing such an accommodation, the employer may have to provide it.
There is a distinction between mere emotional support and psychiatric service. One example is if someone’s dog calms them during an anxiety attack. In this case, the need for reasonable accommodation may be more easily established since the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and the animal then takes a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact.
What Questions Can a Business Ask Regarding Animals in the Workplace?
In situations in which it is not obvious to a reasonable person that the dog is a service animal, an employer should ask two specific questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Contact a Lawyer for More Information
Navigating the ADA can be complicated for a business. To ensure that you are properly adhering to the rules and requirements outlined in the law, it is beneficial to talk with an experienced employment law attorney about your policies and practices surrounding the allowance of service animals.