September is National Service Dog Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and showing appreciation for the work service animals perform. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Some of the disabilities that service dogs support include:
Detecting allergens, low and high blood sugar levels
Dialing 911 in the event of an emergency
Service Dogs in the Workplace
The employment provisions outlined under Title I of the ADA don’t provide a definition of service animals/dogs nor specific guidelines for employers to follow when employees ask to bring their service dogs to work; however, service dogs can be classified as a reasonable accommodation. A request from an employee to bring a service dog to work can be processed in the same way other requests for reasonable accommodations are processed. This means that employers aren’t required to automatically allow employees to bring their service dogs to work but must consider the request.
Employers who have no-animal policies must consider modifying those policies on an individual basis, unless doing so would cause undue hardship or be a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Employers can also require employees to provide documentation or demonstrate that the service dog would effectively meet their disability-related needs. Many times, a healthcare provider is not involved when a person acquires a service dog, so documentation may need to come from another source, such as the person/entity that trained the service dog. Additionally, because Title I doesn’t define “service animal,” it’s possible that a service animal in the employment context could include animals other than dogs.
Service Dogs and Employee Interactions
ADA confidentiality prohibits employers from communicating with other employees about another employee’s disability or accommodations. While it’s important that coworkers refrain from petting or interacting with service dogs that are working, employers should speak with the employee who will be using the service dog to determine preferences for educating fellow coworkers. If the employee prefers not to share with coworkers, employers can simply inform employees that a dog will be in the workplace and they should refrain from interactions.
If a coworker is allergic to or afraid of a service dog, employers should consider options to accommodate both employees. These can include offering different work schedules or work spaces.