Service Animal Workplace Accommodations & Laws 2022
If you’re wondering about service animal workplace accommodations, you aren’t alone. Many people with disabilities use a service dog, and just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they can’t work. But sometimes people may need some adjustments to the work situation or environment.
This article will discuss the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and discuss in detail what it says about service animals being permitted into the workplace setting. Read more on our blog: ADA Service Dog Laws Summary – General Guide & FAQ
Table of Contents
Are Service Animals Allowed at Work?
Are service animals allowed at work? The answer to this is maybe. Title I of the ADA covers employment. Under Title I, service animals are considered a reasonable accommodation.
If you’re an employee who would like to be accompanied by your service animal in the workplace, you must make a request for the service animal to be present as a reasonable accommodation for your disability.
What is ADA Title I?
The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – is a federal civil rights act. It is divided into five sections. Each section is known as a title. Each title covers a different area.
- Title I – Employment
- Title II – State and Local Governments
- Title III – Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
- Title IV – Telecommunications
- Title V – Miscellaneous
Title I deals with employment. It applies to:
- Private employers with 15 or more employees
- State and local governments
- Employment agencies
- Labor unions
Certain state and local laws might require that employers with fewer employees provide reasonable accommodations, too.
The purpose of title I is to ensure that businesses and other covered entities under the ADA do not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.
This applies to:
- Job application procedures
- Advancement and discharge of employees
- Worker’s compensation
- Job training
- As well as other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
When considering service animal workplace accommodations, we hear about “reasonable accommodations.” But what does this mean, exactly?
A reasonable accommodation means changes to the following items, that then allows someone with a disability (who is qualified for the job) to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities.
- Any type of change to the application process
- Any type of change to the hiring process
- Changes to the job or to the way the job is done
- Changes to the job task
- Or changes to the work environment
- Access to reserved parking
- Improvements to accessibility in a work area
- Changing the presentation of tests and other training materials
- Providing or adjust a product, software, or another type of equipment
- Providing a flexible working schedule
- Providing a service or another type of aid to help make access easier
- Possibly reassigning someone to a vacant position
In order to determine what is reasonable, an employer will need to look at the request made by the applicant (or employee with a disability.)
Whether or not an accommodation is reasonable will vary according to:
- The position the employee holds
- The way their disability affects their ability to do their job
- The environment that they work in
Accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat.
Undue hardship – An action that requires “significant difficulty or expense” in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the operation. The concept of undue hardship includes any action that is unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Accordingly, whether a particular accommodation will impose an undue hardship must always be determined on a case-by- case basis.ADA Glossary of Terms
Direct threat – Significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation (as defined in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)).ADA Glossary of Terms
A few examples of reasonable accommodation:
- Restructuring a job, changes to the way the job is done
- Modifying work schedules
- Acquiring or modifying equipment
- Changes to a “no animals” policy, in order to welcome an employee’s service animal or emotional support animal
- Changes to the work environment
Does a Service Animal Need to be a Dog?
Under Title II (State and local governments) and III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the ADA, only dogs are considered service animals.
There is a separate provision for miniature horses and they are subject to a few limitations.
Other animals, either wild or domestic, are not service animals as far as public access rights are concerned.
Having said that, Title I (service animals in employment) is different
There is no definition. Technically speaking, there is no limit to what type of animal could be a reasonable accommodation.
What this means is that accommodating an emotional support animal might just be an appropriate reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability in the workplace.
Defining an Individual with a Disability
A person meets the ADA definition of “disability” that would qualify them for reasonable accommodations if they have…
a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an “actual disability”).ADA
If a disability is not obvious to an employer (many disabilities are invisible), the employer may ask for medical documentation.
This should be from a health care provider/professional to confirm the need for a reasonable accommodation exists.
People who are “regarded as” having a disability, but do not have a disability, are not qualified to receive reasonable workplace accommodations.
What is “Regarded as” Having a Disability?
“Regarded as” means:
- Someone has an impairment, but it doesn’t substantially limit any of the major life activities
- Someone has an impairment, and it does substantially limit a major life activity, but only as a result of the attitudes of other people toward them
- Someone does not have any impairment, but is treated by workplace or business as if they do
An example of “regarded as” having a disability
Here is a real example of someone being “regarded as” having a disability. Say someone is in line for a promotion. Let’s call them Joe. Joe has a history of cancer treatment. However, his cancer is currently in remission.
Let’s imagine that Joe is not given the promotion basically because of his history with cancer. The boss is worried that if the cancer returns, Joe won’t be able to do the job properly or at all.
At this point, Joe doesn’t meet the first part of the definition of disability. It’s because he doesn’t have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
But, based on his “record of” i.e. history of a disability, he is being discriminated against to basically save his boss the potential inconvenience of finding another person for the role if the caner did return.
What are Major Life Activities?
The ADAAA, which is the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) is a civil rights law that was originally passed by Congress in 1990.
Under this act, major life activities was expanded to include major bodily functions.
The statute contains a non-exhaustive list of major life activities that adds additional activities to those currently listed in the ADA and Section 503 regulations, and a non-exhaustive list of major bodily functions.
Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities. It also requires employers take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals.U.S. Department of Labor
Under the ADAAA… Major life activities include, but are not limited to:
- Caring for yourself
- Performing manual tasks
Major Bodily Functions include, but are not limited to:
- Functions of the immune system
- Normal cell growth
- Digestive functions
- Bowel functions
- Bladder functions
- Neurological functions
- Brain functions
- Respiratory functions
- Circulatory functions
- Endocrine functions
- Reproductive functions
The Reasonable Accommodation Process
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Title I of the ADA, employers will need to consider each request for reasonable accommodation on a case-by-case basis.
Step one – The disability needs to be disclosed
The first step is letting the employer know about the need for the animal. This is because employers are only required to accommodate disabilities when they know one exists.
This process must be interactive. In other words, there needs to be participation by the employer as well as the person with a disability. This way, an effective solution can hopefully be agreed upon.
Step 2 – Beginning the process
After an employee discloses a disability to a manager or HR (human resources), it is important that employers do not ignore this request. They must initiate whatever reasonable accommodation process they have in place at their business.
Disclosure usually translates into something like this –> “Because of my disability/disabilities, I am having trouble with a certain job duty (indicating what it is) or a certain benefit or privilege of the employment situation.”
- If an employee discloses that they have a disability, but doesn’t indicate that the effects of the disability are impacting their work, this is usually not sufficient enough to begin the accommodation process
- Employers should never ignore a disability disclosure
Step 3 – Initiate the conversation
The employer and the employee will need to set a time to further chat about the situation. The goal of this dialogue is:
- To understand what sort of restriction, challenge, or barrier the employee is experiencing at work and why
- It’s helpful when the employee may have some ideas about what might be a helpful improvement for them
- At this point, the employer can also provide an overview of the process
- All people involved must agree to maintain confidentiality when discussing accommodations
- Reasonable accommodation info may only be shared on a need-to-know basis and must never go in a personnel file
- Information must not be shared with coworkers
- In the case where a co-worker might need to do something differently as a result of an accommodation, they’ll perhaps need to be made aware of the change required. But personal information, information about a disability, and/or anything about the reason why the change was made must not be disclosed
Step 4 – Gather Documentation
If the need for a reasonable accommodation is not obvious because the disability is not apparent, or invisible, then documentation may be required. This is documentation of a disability from the relevant health professional or rehabilitation expert.
Ensuring the Accommodation is Effective
Both the employer and the employee are important in the process of finding an effective accommodation for the employee.
The employee often will already know what accommodation(s) would work best for them. They are the only ones who deeply understand the the barriers and conditions presented by their disability.
The employer needs to participate because they are familiar with the systems, policies, and practices in place within their business.
Ultimately, the employer decides what accommodation – if any – is put into place
This accommodation must be effective in resolving the functional limitation or limitations presented by the employee’s disability.
What Are Functional Limitations?
Functional limitations are when a person, because of a disability, doesn’t have the cognitive, physical, or psychological ability to perform the routine activities of daily living independently.
Here are just a few examples of functional limitations & solutions as they relate to the workplace environment
- Accessing information – There is a variety of accessibility software that can be added to certain mobile phones and communicators. This make them more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired
- Air quality control and air irritants – There are indoor air cleaning systems available that may help to reduce levels of allergens and pollutants in indoor air. This can help to create a cleaner, healthier work and home environment. Air purifiers are less effective in large areas. And, they need to be designed for particular irritants. As one example, certain air purifiers won’t work for perfumes or other fragrances, but will work for smoke. It’s important to work with a vendor to make certain of what can be effective for the situation.
- Communicating – Telephones, (landline, VOIP, or mobile) can be made accessible to people with low vision or none at all. and no vision
- Commuting – Some employees who experience limitations in concentration or have fatigue might need a flexible schedule. This would help them to optimize their work during hours of increased attentiveness. Start and end times could be adjusted. Breaks can either be combined for one larger break, or segmented into a larger number or shorter breaks
- Lighting – Alternative lighting, like incandescent lighting and LED light fixtures can provide adequate task light without harmful UV radiation. LED lights are becoming more widely available
- Manipulating Items – Adjustable drafting tables can allow people to adjust their writing and drawing surfaces
- Moving items and people – Transferring, lifting, moving, transporting, or examining patients can be challenging for some people with certain impairments and/or disabilities. Adjustable exam tables can help, and can be raised or lowered to the appropriate height necessary to perform certain tasks such as examining, repositioning, or assisting patients in a variety of healthcare settings.
- Noise – Noise is not uncommon when working in a variety of jobs. Offices can be noisy because of their layout or type of work. However, a daycare teacher, miner, or construction worker will definitely have to endure different types of noises. Noises can interfere with people’s concentration and hearing, and for some people it may cause headaches or confusion. Attachments for office cubicles that help to enhance privacy, and also reduce external noise, can help.
- Temperature – Working in certain temperatures can be difficult to people with certain conditions. They might be sensitive to hot or cold extremes, or both. The temperature situation might be due to the type of work, the possible lack of temperature control, or simply the weather
Implement the Reasonable Accommodation
Once the employer, with the help of the employee, identifies an effective accommodation, a plan needs to be made. This plan needs to be implemented effectively on the job. This also would including any necessary training the employee might need.
If, for some reason, an employer plans to deny the reasonable accommodation request, they should be prepared to let the employee know the reason for denying the request.
Frequent Checking In
It’s a good idea that the employer and employee continue to keep the communication open about how the accommodations are working. And, to see if any adjustments might need to be made.
Keep a Paper Trail
It’s a smart idea to document the information about the reasonable accommodation process. This will give you an accurate record. If you need to review the process, you’ll know what you’ve done in regards to the accommodation or reasonable accommodation request.
- The ADA National Network – Provides information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a fantastic source of free, expert, confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues. It has been serving customers across the U.S. and around the world for 35+ years. It also provides free one-on-one practical guidance and technical assistance on job accommodation solutions and ideas.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ADA Information Line – Responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, transgender status, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability or genetic information