Employees with disabilities may require the assistance of therapy dogs or service dogs in the workplace to assist them in completing daily tasks. As an employer, you must be aware of service dog laws and how to best accommodate employees that need this help in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here is what employers need to know about service dogs in the workplace.
What Employers Need To Know About Service Dogs in the Workplace
What is a service animal?
The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or work for the benefit of a disabled person. Aside from service animals, disabled employees may use the assistance of companion animals (pets) or emotional support animals (therapy dogs) that provide comfort and companionship to employees that deal with psychiatric or emotional conditions or disabilities.
Note: Although service animals provide therapeutic benefits for its user, the ADA does not require an employer to allow therapy dogs or other emotional support animals in their business, just service animals. However, employers are still encouraged to make reasonable accommodations to their disabled employees.
Employees do reserve the right to request reasonable accommodations for bringing service dogs in the workplace. These requests should be submitted in writing and filed with the employee’s records and processed in a timely manner to avoid any legal issues.
The letter submitted by your disabled employee should include a description of their disability, how it affects them at work, why a service animal is needed for assistance in performing their job, and what the service or therapy dog will do for the employee. It is also beneficial to be informed on how the employee plans to take care of the animal and its behavior.
As an employer, you do have the right to deny a request to have a service dog at work only if it creates an undue hardship. Simply saying “our business doesn’t allow dogs,” or “therapy dogs will cause too much commotion during business hours,” will lead you to a dark road you do NOT want to travel. Grounds for denying an accommodation request is very strict, such as:
1) Must show that allowing the accommodation imposes a major burden or cost on the company (as it relates to the expense/nature of the accommodation) due to its size and resources.
2) Creates a hardship for other employees that may have severe dog allergies.
3) Moving current employees into disclosed workspaces away from the service animal.
Tip: Be very careful and fully analyze any accommodation request you receive. Denying a request can lead to legal action if not handled properly.
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