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Can I Take A Service Dog Into Work?

25 April, 2019
service dog at work and in the office

In 1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became a law to protect the rights of disabled individuals from facing discrimination.  Before The Americans With Disabilities Act, Employers could refuse to hire an individual just because they had a disability.  This ability to discriminate based on an individuals disability meant that regardless of an individuals ability to perform a particular job, employers could simply refuse to hire them because they were in a wheelchair.  Thankfully with the passing of The Americans with Disabilities Act employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals and they cannot refuse to hire them because they are disabled. 

The ADA clearly states that under the law, individuals who require the assistance of a service dog are protected against discrimination and their service dog can accompany them anywhere the public is allowed.  While disabled individuals who require the use of a service dog can bring a service dog to work with them, there are some limitations.

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Service Dog Defined

First, it is important to understand what  a service dog is, according to The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service dog as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”  Some tasks that service dogs perform include guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, retrieving objects for individuals in a wheelchair, or alerting and protecting an individual who has seizures.  Because service dogs provide essential services for disabled individuals, they are protected under the law and must be allowed to accompany their handler wherever the general public is allowed to go.  These rights extend to the workplace and employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for job applicants or employees.

Documentation

Service dogs do not require documentation such as doctor’s notes or therapist letters nor are they required to wear vests showing they are service dogs.  Many individuals choose to have their service dogs wear vests because it makes them easier to identify and can avoid unnecessary problems when out in public.  While under most circumstances a disabled individual is not required to show proof of their disability or identification proving their dog is a service dog when it comes to employment they may be asked how the dog helps them perform tasks directly relating to their job.  This question can be as simple as describing what tasks their service dogs perform and how they are trained to behave in the workplace.  One way to help an employer understand the functions the service dog provides is to ask for the dog to accompany them on a trial basis so the employer can observe how the dog interacts and behaves.  This is not a violation of their rights under The Americans with Disabilities Act because the employer must make reasonable accommodations for the candidate/employee and their service dog, so they know what accommodations are required.

service dog in an office
A service dog does not require documentation from a doctor.

Exclusions

While the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to help a disabled individual avoid discrimination in the workplace, some exclusions do apply.  The law only applies to businesses that employ 15 or more people, and if the reasonable accommodation puts the employer under undue hardship, they can refuse to hire the disabled individual.  Employers do not have to provide the exact accommodation requested by the employee or applicant if there are more than one accommodation available the employer can choose which one to provide.  According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; undue hardship includes accommodations that are too expensive or too difficult to provide due to the employer’s financial resources or size.  Under the law, service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers wherever the general public goes, and employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who require service dogs, but there are some limitations to where a service dog can go and what dogs they can assist with.

For a disabled individual working in an office setting there should be no issue as their service dog can lay next to them at their desk and assist them with any tasks they may need, but for an individual who is a chef this accommodation may not only be against food handling guidelines, it may be dangerous for the service dog.  Another place where accommodations for a service dog would be difficult would be for an individual who works in the intensive care unit in a hospital; their service dog may put patients at risk.  While The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to keep disabled individuals from being discriminated against, there are some cases where common sense should prevail, and it should be understood that there are certain work areas that a service dog may be excluded from.

Conclusion

The passing of The Americans with Disabilities Act had profound effects on how the disabled are treated including those requiring service dogs.  Before the ADA disabled individuals, disabled individuals could be refused service, denied employment, and excluded from public transportation all because they were disabled.  With the passing of the ADA reasonable accommodations must be made for disabled individuals including accommodations for service dogs.  While there are a few jobs where service dogs may not be allowed (hospital ICU or restaurant kitchens), there are many jobs and careers that disabled individuals and their service dogs can work.  Thanks to The Americans with Disabilities Act and service dogs, disabled individuals have gained more independence and the ability to pursue careers that in the past they may not have been able to do.

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