No Dogs Allowed? Service Animals at Work

Northeast ADA Center Staff April 26, 2020

One of the most frequently asked about topics at the Northeast ADA Center is service animals. Often, these questions relate to service animals in businesses and public spaces; or about the right to have an assistance animal in places of housing. Navigating these waters can be tricky enough, but they become even more complicated when the question involves bringing a service dog to work.

In the employment setting, a service animal is considered as a form of a reasonable accommodation. The rights of service animals to accompany their handlers into public places under Title II and III of the ADA have no counterpart under Title I (employment) of the ADA. Instead, a person with a disability has the right to request a reasonable accommodation to have their service animal in the workplace. This would be a request to modify a workplace policy. The employer then must consider whether allowing the service animal would cause an undue hardship. The employer ultimately gets to decide if an accommodation request is reasonable, but whatever accommodation an employer settles on must be effective for the individual with a disability. Given the variety of tasks a service animal may perform, finding a substitute or alternative accommodation can be very difficult in practical terms.

It is also important to keep in mind that the definition of service animal under Titles II and III of the ADA does not determine whether or not an animal is a service animal under Title I. While the Department of Justice (DOJ) sets the regulations for Titles II and III of the ADA which covers most public places, the regulations for Title I are created by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has not established a regulatory definition of what is a service animal. Consequently, an employee with a disability could request that an emotional support animal be permitted as a service animal. This is not the case for public spaces under Titles II and III where a service animal must be a dog individually trained to perform a specific task, or in some cases a miniature horse trained to perform a specific task.

One final point to remember is that state nondiscrimination laws or regulations may address service animals in the work place. For example, the state of New York's Civil Rights Law - CVR § 47-a, strengthens the rights of employees with disabilities that use a service dog. "Unless it can be clearly shown that a person's disability would prevent such person from performing the particular job no person who is otherwise qualified shall be denied equal opportunities to obtain and/or maintain employment and/or to advance in position in his job solely because said person is a person with a disability and is accompanied by a guide dog, hearing dog or service dog regardless of whether the employer or prospective employer is the state or any political subdivision thereof or any other category of employer."

For this reason, an individual with a disability should research their rights under their state law in addition to understanding how the ADA impacts service animals in the workplace. States may use a different definition of service animal than the one enforced by the Department of Justice. Your local ADA Center can help with finding out the information relevant to your circumstance.