Since ancient times, dogs and their ancestors have provided invaluable support to humans. They watch over their owners, hunt and herd livestock. Today, dogs may be trained to assist people with disabilities, which can greatly enhance their quality of life. Therefore, employees with impairments may wonder if they can bring their service dogs to work.
Service animals as accommodations
It has become more common for persons with disabilities to rely on their service animals for help in many aspects of daily life. This is because a properly trained service animal often provides specific assistance to its handler.
Among their many abilities include:
- Alerting for low or high blood sugar
- Alerting for changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- Guiding the visually impaired to a specific location
- Retrieving water and medication
- Helping with transfers
- Calling other people’s attention for help
- Reminding a person with mental disabilities to take medication
In contrast, an “emotional support animal” is not a trained service animal.
Unless doing so would cause undue hardship, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities.
Title I of the ADA considers service animals as a reasonable accommodation. Although it requires public places to permit them, it does not automatically obligate employers to do the same.
Therefore, employees must first request to bring their service animal to work, much like other forms of reasonable accommodations. It would be up to the employer to decide whether or not such a request would cause undue hardship.
Can employers say no to a service animal as a reasonable accommodation?
Some companies have a zero-tolerance policy towards animals since they can be a distraction, some people are afraid of animals, and others have allergies. Animals in the workplace may also increase the risk of injuries and property damage.
Accommodating an employee’s request to bring their service dog to the workplace may necessitate changing those policies.
Service dog handlers may benefit from explaining why they need to bring their companion to work. Outlining their service dog’s duties may help bolster and justify the request. If the organization cannot satisfy the request, it must find other ways to help the employee.
Though employers are not obligated to grant the request, they should consider doing so if they can. In most cases, a service dog provides a form of accommodation that cannot be met through other means. Without these animals, the employee may not be able to perform their job tasks properly.