Overview of Legal Requirements for Service Animals in Businesses and the Workplace

It’s a fact that some dog owners say that their dogs are service animals, even though they are not. Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States does not have a standard for service dogs to be licensed, although it does have to follow certain requirements under the American Disability Act (ADA) and a growing number of states are making it illegal to confuse the pet as a service.

To get a service dog, you need written documentation from your healthcare provider that you are being treated for a disability. Dogs are allowed to follow their owner to many places, but when it comes to workplaces, there is some confusion in the area. 

Accommodation for the General Public

The responsibility to handle service animals for the general public is in fact well defined and straightforward than the duty to accommodate workers. The ADA needs companies to handle service animals—not emotional assistance or some other animal. In the case of public housing, the ADA restricts the service animal to either a canine or a miniature horse.

A service animal must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The service animal must perform tasks that are directly related to its owner’s disability. There are no specific requirements for the type of training or certification needed for the service animal. (Source)

Accommodation for employees

It is more difficult to handle staff with service animals than to accommodate the general population. Title I of the ADA is unclear on the accommodation of service animals. Support animals are not limited to either dogs or miniature horses. Emotional assistance and other companion animals are also part of the housing mix in the sense of work.

Allergies and phobias of other workers would not constitute unnecessary suffering if the employer is able to cope adequately with the case. Often it is not feasible to remedy the problem, which may cause undue distress for the employer. In a previous decision, the court ruled that the existence of an emotional assistance dog at the office did cause undue burden on the boss.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, there are no strict guidelines for employees to use when considering an employee’s need for accommodation to use a support animal at work. The need for accommodation to carry a service or other support animal to work must be decided on a situational basis.

Employers must take seriously demands to carry a service animal to work. The employer does not automatically refuse the appeal or offer options that do not require the use of a service animal. Note, an employee is not entitled to his/her desired lodging, simply to suitable accommodation.

Adam Hansen