Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Know Your Rights in the Workplace

Service Animals Rights

There’s a reason college campuses offer animal therapy during finals week. Even when we’re at our most stressed, animals have the power to calm and comfort us. Because of this fact, we’ve developed programs for animals to be medically trained to help with a wide variety of disabilities.

Service animals have more applications than just seeing-eye dogs. An assistance animal can be trained to help people handle PTSD triggers, some can detect allergens, some help with diabetes, and some can help people with autism.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are different, and sometimes people get them confused. We’re going to go over the major differences so you can understand what your rights are under federal law in the workplace when it comes to your animal.

Service Animals: An Overview

There are only two animals that can be classified as a service animal: a dog and a miniature horse. The animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) qualified for service animals expanded to include these horses after their addition in 2010.

Since the majority of service animals are dogs, we’re going to focus on them for the rest of the article. If you’re interested in learning more about your options for a miniature horse service animal, there are plenty of articles on the subject.

A service dog is a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks to assist with their handler’s disability. Here is a list of the different types of service dogs people with disabilities may have.

  • Allergy Detection Dogs
  • Autism Service Dogs
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs
  • Guide Dogs
  • Hearing Dogs
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs
  • Seizure Alert Dogs

These dogs go through extensive training in order to perform the tasks their handlers rely on them to do. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and require months, if not years, of training. They are a piece of medical equipment, which is why they cannot be distracted by other people petting them.

Sometimes in the safety of the handler’s home, they can be off-duty, but when they’re out in public, you must respect that they are actively doing their job at all times.

Emotional Support Animals: An Overview

An emotional support animal is different from a service animal. Almost any animal can be classified as an ESA, and there is no training required for it to pass inspection.

An ESA gets their certification from a doctor, often a psychiatrist. The prescriber writes a letter explaining why it is important for their patient to have this animal and how it helps them manage their symptoms.

The only rights you get as an ESA owner are related to the housing act. When renting, a landlord cannot discriminate against you because of your animal. They cannot charge you extra for your animal, even if they normally charge pet rent, and they must allow you to have it, even if their apartments don’t allow animals.

However, you must keep up your end of the bargain. With an ESA, you’re promising that your animal helps with your disability, that it won’t cause damage, and that it isn’t a danger to other people. If you’re walking your ESA dog and it bites someone, you could lose your housing rights in regards to your animal.

Because they do not require training, they are not classified as medical equipment. You can’t take them into stores that don’t normally allow animals.

For example, you can’t take your ESA hedgehog into a restaurant. They play an extremely important role in your mental health, but that doesn’t mean they get the same rights as a service animal. In some cases, they can have rights according to the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits people with disabilities from being discriminated against while flying. Airlines have made their policies stricter after people have abused the policy to fly with non-ESA pets for free.

Animals in the Workplace

Legally, your employer is required to accommodate your service dog without incurring “undue hardship,” significant expense, or a decrease in product quality. All of these factors are measured compared to the company’s size and financial resources.

So what does that mean?

It means that a company the size of Facebook needs to allocate more resources towards accommodating an employee with a service animal than a small business. It also means that if someone with a service dog tries to apply to a chocolate manufacturing plant, they might not be able to bring their service dog, as getting dog hair in the chocolate would qualify as a decrease in product quality.

If you have a service animal, your employer must do their best to accommodate you and your needs. Just like they must comply with ADA requirements in regards to wheelchair ramps, they need to make the office a safe space for you.

Let’s look at an example. You have a service dog that helps you manage your diabetes, but someone in your office is extremely allergic to dogs.

This is a situation where your employer needs to take those steps to accommodate the needs of both you and a coworker. They need to look at the realm of possibilities they have based on their size to make the workplace a safe space for both of you.

Here are a couple of things they could do:

  • Add HEPA air filters to the office
  • Have you work on different floors
  • Give one of you an office
  • Increase the number of days a week the office is professionally cleaned
  • Give you alternating work from home schedules
  • Institute a messaging system so you both know what room the other person will be in

They must do the best they can to make sure their office is accessible to everyone: including those with service dogs. Just like a storefront needs to give public accommodations to a person with a disability, they need to make accommodations for their employees.

Depending on your workplace and your relationship with your coworkers, you may be able to bring your ESA to work. Some offices are a pet-friendly workplace, so your ESA can come along just like everyone else’s dogs.

If the office is small and close-knit, you can always ask your boss about the possibility of your animal coming to work with you. However, you have no grounds to force them to allow this, so if your boss says no, you have no legal recourse to sue them for discrimination.

Both Animals Play an Important Role in Health

ESAs, service animals, and household pets all play an important part in their owners’ lives. Service animals are rigorously trained, which makes them equipped to handle a variety of emergency situations, and ESAs can help people with emotional distress in times of crisis.

They all play different roles in making sure their owners are happy and healthy. If you own a business, make sure you make your company a safe, accessible place for people who require the use of a service animal.

Sarah Margaret Henry
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Published in Business, Featured Articles

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