Recent ADA Accommodations Come With Fur & A Tail

While most employers are extremely familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its requirement that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees with illnesses or injuries, many don’t think about an accommodation of a furry, four legged animal.  However, in a time when awareness regarding service animals is growing and ADA clarification that anxiety and seizure disorders, which animals can help, are disabilities, the requests from employees to bring animals into the workplace as an accommodation has increased in frequency.   

There are two categories of animals that are sought as accommodations in the workplace: (1) service animals that help an employee perform a certain task; and (2) emotional support or therapy animals that don’t serve a specific function, but provide comfort that helps with disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.  Most service or therapy animals are dogs, but they do not have to be to qualify for such a position.  Although the same ADA standards apply to a request to bring an animal into the workplace as to any request for a disability accommodation, the determination by an employer to grant such a request involves unique considerations.

What do you do?

An employee has the right under the ADA to request an accommodation of an animal if a disability substantially limits their ability to do important tasks and an animal would help them with those tasks.  However, bringing animals into the workplace can cause a number of issues, including safety concerns for the animal based on specific characteristics of the job or work space and employee allergies.  Additionally, employees may be resentful that co-workers can bring their animal to work, while they cannot.  It may also raise questions about an employee’s health information that cannot be disclosed.

Employers should consider how they will respond if their employee requests such an accommodation.  Best practices suggest an employer should ask employees for medical documents verifying their disability and detailing why having an animal would help them.  Employers should also weigh how having an animal in the workplace would affect their operations or other employees before accepting the request or countering with an alternative.  Even if you ultimately determine your business is not able to accommodate a service or therapy animal due to its operations or effects on other employees, it is important to take the time to fully consider each request just as you would any request for accommodation. 

If you have questions or would like some guidance when your employee requests an accommodation that may have fur and a tail, your Thompson Coe attorney would be happy to help and can be contacted at (651) 389-5000 or at myHRgenius@thompsoncoe.com.  You can also find helpful information and previous tips touching on this topic and much more at https://thehrgenius.com/.

 
 

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Kevin Mosher