Service Animals in the Workplace in 2020: 7 Things You Need to Know

The above is a picture of a service dog being petted on the head.

Service Animals in the Workplace in 2020: 7 Things You Need to Know

Service dogs are changing lives all across America. In fact, there are currently about 500,000 registered service dogs in the United States. They perform critical tasks from alerting a diabetic that their blood sugar is dangerously low to helping people with visual impairment, seizure disorders, and more.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that service animals must be given access to almost every place their human handlers need to go. This often raises a slew of questions regarding service animals in the workplace.

Whether you’re a business owner or a person with a disability, it’s important to understand the rules when it comes to accommodating service animals. Here are seven important facts you need to know.

1. Service Animals Aren’t Automatically Allowed in the Workplace

The ADA doesn’t have specific rules that require employers to allow service animals in the workplace. This request falls under the category of “reasonable accommodations,” which means that the employer must consider allowing them but can deny the request if it causes “undue hardship” (more on this later). 

2. Not All Employers Are Subject to the ADA

It’s also important to note that not all employers are required to comply with the ADA. On a Federal level, it only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Some state and local legislation extend this to smaller businesses, but it’s not as common.

Small employers who don’t fall under the ADA or state or local legislation can legally deny a request to allow a service animal in the workplace and the employee will have little to no recourse.

3. Employers Can Deny Service Animals in the Workplace Based on “Undue Hardship”

An employer who does fall under the ADA can deny any accommodation request, including the request to allow service animals in the workplace, if they can prove that the change would cause “undue hardship.”

In this case, it’s not enough to just say “We don’t allow dogs” or “A dog would be too disruptive.” Instead, the employer must show that allowing the dog would impose a significant cost or burden.

Even if other employees are severely allergic to dogs, this isn’t necessarily an undue hardship. In many cases, this is easy to negate with inexpensive accommodations like using upgraded air filters and giving the employee and their dog a separate office far away from the allergic employees.

Each hardship request is considered on a case-by-case basis. 

It's also possible for the employer to deny the request but offer different accommodation. The ADA doesn't say employers have to provide the employee’s preferred accommodation. This means that if the employer can find a way to make it so the dog truly isn’t necessary at the workplace, then this may qualify as a sufficient accommodation. 

4. Emotional Support Animals Are Not the Same as Service Animals

It’s also important to understand the difference between service animals and emotional support animals. According to the ADA, a service animal is one that has been trained to perform specific acts to help someone with a disability.

Emotional support dogs, however, don’t have this specific training. As such, they are not included under the ADA.

While emotional support animals are often a critical part of the medical plan for people with social anxiety, PTSD, and other very real disorders, employers are not required to consider a request to allow them in the workplace.

5. Only Dogs and Miniature Horses Can Qualify as Service Animals

According to the ADA, the only species that can qualify as service animals are dogs and miniature horses. If a disabled employee has another type of animal it will not fall under the “reasonable accommodations” standard even if that animal is specifically trained to perform necessary tasks.

6. Employees May Need to Provide Certain Documentation

While an employer is considering a service animal request, it’s well within their rights to request certain documentation. This may include:

  • Medical documentation to support the need for a service animal
  • Proof that the animal is appropriately trained and won’t disrupt the work environment
  • Vaccination records
  • Proof of sufficient homeowners or renters insurance (to cover any personal or property damage the dog may cause)

The employer may also ask for verification that the dog is receiving flea, tick, and parasite preventatives.

7. The Employee Is Completely Responsible for the Animal’s Care

Having a service animal in the workplace is a big responsibility. The employee can be held accountable for ensuring that the dog is housebroken, is not aggressive, and won’t bark all day. The dog must also be friendly towards people and other animals and not overly protective of its owner or its owner’s space.

The employer should designate a special area outdoors for the dog to relieve itself. It’s the employee’s responsibility (and no one else’s!) to make sure the dog goes outside for potty breaks and that any indoor or outdoor messes are cleaned up right away.

Note that the employer may need to rearrange the employee’s break times or provide extra dates to allow the employee to take the dog out when necessary.

Find Your Perfect Job Today!

Don’t let your disability keep you from finding your perfect job! Whether you need to have a service animal in the workplace, need other accommodations, or just need a chance, there are plenty of employers who are looking for skilled people just like you.

Start your search by browsing through our job listings. Here you’ll find over 300,000 opportunities and more are added every day!