In 2020, many peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties use the emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal sup­port pro­vid­ed by a ser­vice ani­mal. This means that the work­place has seen an increase of these ser­vice ani­mals over the last decade and there­fore the work­force needs to be edu­cat­ed on this chang­ing envi­ron­ment. Let’s take a look at what con­sti­tutes a ser­vice ani­mal and the accom­mo­da­tion of such in the workplace.


Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act

The Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act (ADA) pro­vides a frame­work of pro­tec­tions for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in the work­place. Title I of the ADA pro­hibits employ­ers from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against poten­tial can­di­dates and employ­ees with dis­abil­i­ties. In fact, Title I out­lines that the work­place must make “rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tions” for this spe­cif­ic group of peo­ple. “Exam­ples of rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tions include mak­ing exist­ing facil­i­ties acces­si­ble; job restruc­tur­ing; part-time or mod­i­fied work sched­ules; acquir­ing or mod­i­fy­ing equip­ment; chang­ing tests, train­ing mate­ri­als, or poli­cies; and pro­vid­ing qual­i­fied read­ers or interpreters.”


“Ser­vice Ani­mals” Definition

Accord­ing to the Depart­ment of Justice’s revised Title III of the ADA, a ser­vice ani­mal is now defined under Title III as “any dog that is 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. Oth­er species of ani­mals, whether wild or domes­tic, trained or untrained, are not ser­vice ani­mals for the pur­pos­es of this def­i­n­i­tion. The work or tasks per­formed by a ser­vice ani­mal must be direct­ly relat­ed to the individual’s dis­abil­i­ty.” Cur­rent­ly, a “ser­vice ani­mal” can also include anoth­er species of helper: a trained minia­ture horse. Of course, there are lim­i­ta­tions to what a work­place can accom­mo­date in terms of minia­ture hors­es and the employ­er would make those lim­i­ta­tions known if approached with the need of a per­son with a horse as their assistant.


Accom­mo­da­tion Requests & Documentation

When an accom­mo­da­tion is request­ed on behalf of a dis­abled can­di­date or employ­ee, the employ­er must con­sid­er the request. How­ev­er, the employ­er is sim­ply required to assess and sug­gest options for the rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tion for the employ­ee. Some exam­ples of job accom­mo­da­tions may include installing a ramp or mod­i­fy­ing the lay­out of a work­sta­tion. Tech­nol­o­gy accom­mo­da­tions may be pro­vid­ing sign lan­guage inter­preters at events or pro­vid­ing screen read­er soft­ware. The ADA does not specif­i­cal­ly address or require the inclu­sion of ser­vice ani­mals in the work­place. So, if the employ­er has a no-ani­mals-in-the-work­place pol­i­cy and is asked to allow a ser­vice ani­mal for an employ­ee, the employ­er must con­sid­er mod­i­fy­ing this pol­i­cy but is not required to mod­i­fy it. A “rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tion” for an employ­ee does not always equal their “pre­ferred accommodation.”

As for doc­u­men­ta­tion for ser­vice ani­mals in the work­place, the ADA does allow for an employ­er to request med­ical doc­u­men­ta­tion for the need for the dis­abled per­son to need this accom­mo­da­tion. It also allows for the employ­er to request proof from the employ­ee that the ser­vice ani­mal is appro­pri­ate­ly trained to assist them and that it is trained to not dis­rupt the work­place under nor­mal con­di­tions. It is worth not­ing that an “emo­tion­al sup­port ani­mal” is NOT clas­si­fied as a “ser­vice ani­mal” by the ADA unless it can per­form a spe­cif­ic task, such as sense when an anx­i­ety attack is about to hap­pen in the case of some­one with PTSD and the ani­mal helps avoid or les­son that attack.


Conclusion

Every work­place should have writ­ten poli­cies on rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tions for dis­abled employ­ees. Of course, there is no way to include all pos­si­bil­i­ties and so the poli­cies can include the lan­guage of con­sid­er­a­tion of requests on a case-by-case basis. The key to this pol­i­cy is that those who are in charge of assess­ing accom­mo­da­tion requests must be will­ing to tru­ly con­sid­er the accom­mo­da­tion of ser­vice animals.


Resources

Need help? Check out these resources on work­place accom­mo­da­tions for those with disabilities:

Office of Dis­abil­i­ty Employ­ment Policy

FAQ about Ser­vice Ani­mals and the ADA

Employ­er Assis­tance and Resource Net­work on Dis­abil­i­ty Inclusion

Job Accom­mo­da­tion Network