Due to the increase of disabled military veterans looking for employment, the Department of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), is responding to an influx of questions about service animals in the workplace.
Service animals can be used for people who become disabled by Panic Disorders, Depression, and PTSD. They can also be used as guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, hearing alert dogs, diabetic and seizure alert dogs, as well as Autism service dogs. But can your employer really tell you that you can’t bring your service animal with you to work?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability"
Title I of the ADA
Title I of the ADA requires employers to “provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.” This may require the admittance of service animals. It does not, however, require employers to automatically allow its employees to bring their service animals to work. Allowing a service animal into the workplace is a form of reasonable accommodation. Employers must consider allowing service animals in the workplace for disabled employees unless doing so would result in an undue hardship or if it disrupts the workplace.
While the criteria for service animals in the workplace state "the employee provides proper physical maintenance of the animal, to include grooming, bathing, and feeding to minimize smells and shedding," it may be a bit more involved than that.
With so many people having pets these days, it would be highly unlikely that every organization would need to focus on pet allergies. However, if an employee does have a serious allergy to animals and it constitutes a disability under the ADA, those employees may require reasonable accommodation as well.
Imposing a ban on all service dogs from the workplace would not be an appropriate solution. That can pave the way for an employer to inadvertently support one disability over another.
Some solutions to consider:
- Change the seating plan in the office so that the employees do not have to sit near each other
- Implement flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time
- Permit one of the employees to work from home
- Make sure the area is well ventilated
- Use portable air purifiers at each workstation
- Allow different forms of communication (i.e. instant messaging, e-mail, telephone, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing)
Reasonable accommodation as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice is "any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.”
What is the ADA?
The ADA became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).