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Service animals play a crucial role in supporting individuals with disabilities, facilitating greater independence and participation in various aspects of life, including employment. This article explores how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) supports the inclusion of service animals in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation, and what employees and employers should consider in this process.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal law designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and to ensure their full participation in society. In the context of employment, the ADA requires that covered employers—those with 15 or more employees—provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. These accommodations are adjustments or modifications that enable these individuals to perform their job duties effectively.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation could be any change to a job, work environment, or the way things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment. For instance, modifying work schedules, adjusting desk heights for wheelchair access, or providing software that assists with visual or hearing impairments.

Service Animals as a Reasonable Accommodation

A service animal, under the ADA, is defined specifically as a dog that has been trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This could include guiding a person who is blind, alerting a person who is deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other duties as needed.

Key Considerations for Service Animals in the Workplace

  1. Verification of Disability and Necessity: The individual must demonstrate that they have a disability as defined by the ADA, which substantially limits one or more major life activities. They must also show that the service animal is necessary to help them perform their job duties.
  2. Performing Essential Job Functions: The employee should be able to perform the essential functions of their job with the accommodation of a service animal. If a service animal is crucial for the completion of these tasks, then the employer is generally expected to accommodate this need.
  3. Avoiding Undue Hardship: Employers are not obligated to accommodate a service animal if it would cause undue hardship to the business. Factors such as workplace safety, the size of the business, the financial resources involved, and the impact on the operation are considered. For example, if the presence of a service animal could compromise a sterile environment in a laboratory, this could be seen as an undue hardship.

Engaging with Your Employer

If you require a service animal at your workplace, it’s essential to communicate openly with your employer. Here’s how you can approach this:

  • Notification: Inform your employer in writing about your need for a service animal as a reasonable accommodation. Include documentation from a healthcare provider that explains how the animal assists with your disability.
  • Interactive Dialogue: Engage in a discussion with your employer about how the service animal helps you perform your job tasks. Address any potential concerns your employer might have, such as allergies among co-workers or the animal’s presence in public-facing roles.
  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of all communications with your employer concerning your accommodation request. This documentation can be crucial in resolving any disputes or misunderstandings.

Conclusion

Employers are generally required to accommodate service animals in the workplace under the ADA, as long as the accommodation does not cause undue hardship. If you believe a service animal is necessary for you to perform your job, start by having a constructive conversation with your employer to explore feasible solutions that respect both your needs and the operational requirements of the workplace. By fostering an environment of cooperation and mutual respect, both employees and employers can create a more inclusive and productive work environment.

J. Horowitz
J. Horowitz

J. Horowitz leverages over two decades of experience as a seasoned employment law attorney in Arizona to offer insightful freelance writing on the same subject. After a successful career advocating for fairness and justice in the workplace, J. now dedicates his expertise to writing comprehensive articles, blog posts, and thought leadership pieces that illuminate the complexities of employment law.