Not All Animals are Created Equal (Under the ADA)
I recently saw a story about a woman trying to board a plane
with a squirrel.
You might think that’s nutty, but United Airlines reports that requests for
emotional support animals increased by 77% last year.
As more people try to bring their
animals with them wherever they go, employers are asking more questions about animals
in the workplace. Most employers understand that they must accommodate requests
for some animals, but which ones? Under what circumstances?
In the United States, the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) indeed requires most employers to allow service
animals in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation to employees with
disabilities. However, the ADA actually defines “service animal” very narrowly.
Under the ADA, only dogs (and in some cases miniature horses) can
qualify as service animals. An emotional
support peacock, for example, won’t fly.
In fact, “emotional support
animals” are not covered by the ADA at all. There is a sharp difference between
service animals and emotional support animals under the ADA. Service animals must
be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with
disabilities. Examples include guiding people who are blind, alerting people
who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, or calming a person with Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. A dog that provides only
emotional support or comfort does not qualify under federal law. It’s worth
noting, however, that some states, such as California, may require emotional
support animals to be permitted as a reasonable accommodation.
When an employee asks to bring a qualifying service animal to work, the
employer generally must allow it unless the animal causes an “undue hardship.” If
the dog causes a safety hazard or prevents coworkers from doing their jobs, the
accommodation likely wouldn’t be reasonable.
Things gets particularly hairy when
one employee is allergic to another employee’s service animal. The Department
of Justice’s Disability Rights Section (DOJ) has stated, “Allergies and fear of
dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people
using service animals.” The DOJ suggests assigning those employees to different
locations of the facility or separating them if they must be in the same room. If
an employer allows emotional support animals even though it’s not required by
the ADA, the issue of an employee being allergic to that animal becomes even
If you have questions about service
animals in your workplace, you should seek the advice of an attorney, because sometimes
the answers are fuzzy.