Posts Tagged ‘dogs in the workplace’

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.

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.

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.

Service Dogs in the Office: How to Make It Work Most employers are in the dark about employees who require the assistance of service dogs and there are questions such as “what if the dog bites?” or “how will those allergic to dog hair react?” to name two of the most commonly asked. There are actually ways to integrate service dogs into a workplace while protecting the legal rights and ensuring the safety of both the employers and the employees.

One of the major concerns that an employer would have to address regarding service dogs in the office is the possibility of allergies. Although only around 10% of people are allergic to dogs, the situation should be mitigated. One airline that has done a study on air exchange and air flow has reported that service dogs aboard aircraft should be in a place that is five rows or more from the passenger who has the allergy.

How Things Can Work with Service Dogs in the Office Employers should be aware that they may be held liable if an animal is allowed in the office and injures employees, customers or just about anybody who happens to be in the workplace like the pizza delivery boy or the CEO of a potential investor. The only solution to this is to ask the owner to get insurance coverage for injuries which may be caused by his/her service dog.

In cases of damage to company property – including computers, carpets, furniture, office equipment, and even files – insurance would be one way of rectifying the situation; indemnification would be another in the form of financial reimbursement if the service dog destroys personal property of another employee that was, rightfully, in the workplace. The service dog’s owner could also cover the damages.

An employer who is okay with service dogs in the office, but leases office space would have to ask permission from the building owner before the canines are allowed inside. If you aren’t too clear on any policy of the building owner regarding the presence of service dogs in the premises, read the lease agreement again. If there is a policy that states animals are not allowed in the building, negotiate or compromise.

Although the jury has yet to decide whether or not an allergy to animals may be classified a disability as per the ADA of 1990, an employer has to ensure that he/she does not commit a violation of the ADA. If you are caught in a dilemma in which one employee requires the service dog and another has an allergy to dogs, it may be best to keep the dog and his/her owner far from the allergic employee.

Conditions in Which Service Dogs Won’t Be Allowed in the Workplace The employer has the right to deny the request of a disabled employee to bring his/her service dog to the workplace only if any or all of certain conditions are applicable. The employer must be aware, however, that in conditions such as those below, the burden of proof is laid on the employer and not his/her employee:

The service animal, as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other laws relevant to it, does not meet the definition. The service animal’s presence would be an interference with the ability of the employer to conduct or transact business. The employee has not been deemed qualified as an individual with disability as per the ADA, state law or the Rehabilitation Act. The employer will be unduly burdened by the service animal’s presence.

How Things Can Work with Service Dogs in the Office Employers should be aware that they may be held liable if an animal is allowed in the office and injures employees, customers or just about anybody who happens to be in the workplace like the pizza delivery boy or the CEO of a potential investor. The only solution to this is to ask the owner to get insurance coverage for injuries which may be caused by his/her service dog.

In cases of damage to company property – including computers, carpets, furniture, office equipment, and even files – insurance would be one way of rectifying the situation; indemnification would be another in the form of financial reimbursement if the service dog destroys personal property of another employee that was, rightfully, in the workplace. The service dog’s owner could also cover the damages.

An employer who is okay with service dogs in the office but leases office space would have to ask permission from the building owner before the canines are allowed inside. If you aren’t too clear on any policy of the building owner regarding the presence of service dogs in the premises, read the lease agreement again. If there is a policy that states animals are not allowed in the building, negotiate or compromise.

Although the jury has yet to decide whether or not an allergy to animals may be classified a disability as per the ADA of 1990, an employer has to ensure that he/she does not commit a violation of the ADA. If you are caught in a dilemma in which one employee requires the service dog and another has an allergy to dogs, it may be best to keep the dog and his/her owner far from the allergic employee.

[Editor’s Note: Please be aware that this material does not serve as legal advice. As with all blog content discussing landlord-tenant legalities, be sure to consult Federal and State laws specific to your area before implementing any of this advice into your practices.]