Service Animals in the Workplace: Questions and Answers

Service animals function as an aid to individuals with a disability, whether helping with major life functions or acting as a type of alarm of a coming episode. As participants in society, service animals receive more respect and mobility within public places than a pet. However, individuals with service animals sometimes face certain unfair treatment from employers because of their dependence on a service animal.

What is the Definition of a Service Animal?

Service Animals in the Workplace: Questions and AnswersA service animal is a dog that received training in a specific area to perform those tasks for an individual with a disability. Only dogs are recognized as service animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA regulations, disabilities include physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or another mental disability. Examples of the type of works service animals do for a person with a disability are below.

  • assisting people with little or no vision to navigate
  • providing rescue work
  • alerting people with no hearing of people or dangerous sounds
  • helping a person during a seizure
  • supporting individuals with mobility issues

Is an Emotional Support Animal the same as a Service Animal?

No, an emotional support animal is generally a part of a medical treatment plan or therapy, offering comfort and companionship. Therapy animals help individuals improve their physical, social, cognitive, and emotional functioning. An emotional support animal is not a service animal according to federal law and the definition provided by ADA. Therefore, an emotional support animal does not receive the same legal protections as a service animal.

Are Service Dogs Allowed in the Workplace?

The ADA provides that service dogs can be in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation. Of course, the service animal must be well behaved and not disruptive to the workplace, remaining on a leash if it does not hamper the dog’s service. If a service animal becomes too much of a disruption, a workplace retains the ability to claim undue hardship and not allow the service animal.

Can an Employer Ask if the Service Animal Need is Legitimate?

No, to ask the service animal’s handler such a question is against the law. The law limits what an employer can ask of the employee about his or her disability and the presence of a service animal. An employer cannot ask about the employee’s disability or request medical documentation. Neither can the employer expect a demonstration of the service animal’s training or ability to perform a specific task.

However, two questions are acceptable.

  • Is the service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the service animal been trained to perform?

Where are Service Animals not allowed?

Service animals are permitted in all areas open to the public. But the true reason that service animals receive the right to be in public spaces such as a restaurant or library is due to the needs of the disabled person that they serve. Therefore, a person with a disability accompanied by a service animal is not permitted in the kitchen of a restaurant so the service animal is not either. A service animal on its own has no right to public areas without working in the service of a disabled person.

What Disabilities qualify for a Service Animal?

The ADA provides the definition of a “disability” and does not place any limitations on what type of disability a person can have to receive benefits from the support of a service animal. The goal of ADA is to provide reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities to help them  overcoming life-limiting disabilities. Moreover, no doctor’s diagnosis is required to have a service animal.

In some cases, employers turn down the request of the accompaniment of a service animal. When a service animal provides a particular service to a person with a disability, it is against the law for an employer to deny this accommodation. However, an employer may be able to prove that the presence of a service animal will be an undue hardship.

If you are a person with a disability and require the support of your service animal, contact an attorney now to hear your legal options.

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