Some people who are disabled have service animals to help them complete many different tasks at home and work. People who have disabilities may also use their service animals at their jobs. For example, someone who is blind might use a guide dog to get around in the office while someone who has a seizure disorder might rely on a service dog that has been specially trained to recognize the warning signs of a seizure. If you have a disability and rely on a service animal, you should understand your rights in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to understand your rights about bringing your service animal to work.
Service animals in the workplace
In the ADA’s discussion of public accommodations, service animals are defined as dogs that are trained to perform work to benefit people who have disabilities. The definition of service animals under the ADA does not include emotional support animals. These are animals that offer companionship and comfort to people who suffer from emotional or psychiatric conditions. While emotional support animals offer therapeutic benefits, they do not receive individualized training to perform specific jobs for their owners. Owners of public accommodations that are covered by the ADA are only required to accommodate people who have service animals. They are not required to allow people to bring their emotional support animals with them when they go to public accommodations.
Unlike the part of the ADA that discusses public accommodations, the portion of the ADA that covers employers does not include a definition of service animals. The ADA’s employment discrimination sections may require that employers allow workers to use service animals at their jobs as reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. They might also be required to allow workers to use emotional support animals if doing so would reasonably accommodate the workers so that they could perform the essential functions of their jobs. The ADA requires that employers offer reasonable accommodations to employees that allow them to perform their jobs as long as the accommodations do not create undue hardships for employers. Undue hardships are substantial expenses or burdens for the employers’ sizes and resources.
Asking for accommodations to bring a service or support animal to work
Employers are not required to ask their employees if they need accommodations. Instead, you must request an accommodation to perform your job if you need one. You should submit your request for a reasonable accommodation in writing so that you will have a record of the date that you asked for an accommodation and the information that you gave to your employer about your need. In your letter, describe the disability that you have and how you are affected by it. Explain that you are requesting permission to bring your service or support animal to work as an accommodation. Explain how bringing your service or support animal will help you to perform your job. Discuss your animal’s training and the work or tasks that it assists you with. You might also want to include information about how you will take care of your animal while you are at work, including where you will keep it and how you will meet its needs. Your employer can ask you to provide documentation showing that you need the animal’s help, its duties and training, and proof of its behavior.
Service animals and undue hardship
Your employer can deny your request to have your service animal at work if it would create an undue hardship. Your employer is not allowed to simply say that dogs are not allowed at the workplace or that it would be disruptive. Instead, your employer must demonstrate that allowing your accommodation would create a substantial burden or cost given the employer’s resources and size and the other accommodation expenses the employer currently has.
Some employers have concerns that allowing a worker to bring a service dog would create an undue hardship because other workers have severe allergies to dogs. In this type of situation, there might be solutions that are not overly expensive or disruptive. The employers might be able to move employees away from one another, provide air filters, and arranging for the service dog to be kept elsewhere when employees must attend meetings together. They might also be able to create schedules for using public spaces so that allergic employees are not exposed to the service animal.
Your employer is allowed to require that you do not allow your animal to be disruptive at work. For example, your employer can require that you keep your dog under control at all times. Your employer can also require that your service animal must be well-behaved. Your service or support animal should be clean and free of fleas, and you should schedule times to take it outside when necessary to relieve itself during the workday.
What to do if your request for accommodations is denied
If you have requested an accommodation to bring your service animal to work, and your employer denies it, you might benefit from consulting with an experienced employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler. Our attorneys represent people who have disabilities in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we understand the rights that people with disabilities have in the workplace. We can review your request and your employer’s reasons for denying it and provide you with a fair and honest assessment of the merits of your case. We can provide you with guidance about your legal options. If we agree to accept representation, we can help you to try to resolve the situation by negotiating with your employer or by filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the corresponding state agency. Contact Swartz Swidler today by calling 856.685.7420 to request a free consultation. You can also reach us by submitting your information together with a short description of what has occurred by using our online contact form.