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Can Your Employee Bring Her Dogs to Work?

Service animals are becoming more prevalent and we are finding few employers have contemplated how to work with this new reality.   The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and many State laws, including Connecticut’s and New York’s, require employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. A service animal is one example of such an accommodation.

Requests for Service Animals at Work

When employers receive a request for a service animal, they can ask the employee for appropriate medical documentation of the needed accommodation.  Note, the employer does not need to know what disability the employee has – only that the service animal is needed.  Simply put, it should be irrelevant to the employer if the employee needs the service animal because he has PTSD or because he needs a reminder to take his meds. 

If the service animal does come to work, the employer needs to contemplate how it will respond when other workers want to start bringing in their own pets too or object to the pet.  As is often the case, the other employees will question why Johnny Jones receives special treatment and they do not. 

Under the ADA, the employer is prohibited from disclosing medical information about the employee.  This means it would be unlawful to say “Johnny Jones has PTSD and needs to bring in his service animal to manage it.”  Instead, the EEOC suggests keeping it simple; explain the Company is trying to help an employee be more efficient at work.   The EEOC further suggests reminding employees that it is company policy to respect the privacy of employees; each employee is entitled to privacy regarding their unique needs at work. 

Emotional support dogs are also becoming more popular in today’s society.   While these dogs are generally not covered by the ADA, employers must be careful not to end the inquiry there.  Psychiatric conditions such as anxiety are, in fact, covered by the ADA.  Therefore, if the dog is trained to spot when its handler is going to have an anxiety attack, this would be covered by the ADA.

Key Takeaways

If you receive a request from an employee to bring in a service animal and you have not navigated this situation before, we suggest you contact competent labor and employment counsel to discuss the inevitable issues. 

Of course, an employer always has the option of voluntarily allowing pets at work.  For instance, Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle has a pet friendly policy and employees routinely bring their pets to work.  In fact, our own Law Firm has two resident dogs: Benny and Leo.  Neither are service animals or emotional support dogs but both of them boost the spirits of the Office.  If it works for your office – and remains a safe environment – we highly recommend pets at work. 

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the ADA, as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.