The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog (or in limited cases, a miniature horse) “that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” Note that there must be a direct connection between the dog’s tasks and the person’s disability — meaning, the dog must be trained to help the disabled person with specific actions.
As stated by the ADA, “service animals are working animals, not pets.” Also, the ADA does not regard emotional support animals as service animals. (Emotional support animals are there to provide comfort, not to do specific tasks.)
What kinds of tasks do service animals perform?
This might include:
- Reminding a mentally ill person to take his or her medication.
- Guiding a blind person.
- Alerting a diabetic that his or her blood sugar level is high or low.
- Calming someone who is experiencing an anxiety attack.
Do employers have to let employees bring their service animals to work?
The ADA states that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees unless the accommodations would cause the employer undue hardship.
Reasonable accommodations can include changes to the way the job is performed, modifications to the work environment, or allowing the employee to bring his or her service animal to work.
Generally speaking, if an employee requests reasonable accommodation in the form of the presence of his or her service animal, the employer must accommodate the employee.
What if the service animal is being disruptive?
The employee is responsible for not only caring for the service animal but also controlling it. If the employee fails to control the animal, you can ask the employee to remove it from the premises.
As the ADA explains, a service animal can be excluded if it directly threatens the safety or health of other employees or has a history of that type of behavior.
How can an employer tell whether a dog is a service animal?
If it’s not clear that the animal is a service animal, you can ask the employee two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal that is needed because of the employee’s disability?
- Which tasks has the service animal been trained to carry out?
Note that the ADA does not put any breed restrictions on service animals, nor does it require any certification — such as documentation showing that the animal has been trained.
Are there any state regulations on service animals?
Some state and local governments have their own laws on service animals. For example, state law may dictate whether service animals that are still in training can be taken to public places and whether inclusion of emotional support animals is required for reasonable accommodation.
The state may also impose penalties on employers that violate employees’ rights when it comes to service animals. Therefore, employers should make every effort to avoid running afoul of this law.