Do You Have To Allow An Employee To Bring A Service Animal To Work?
You probably know that if you have an employee with a disability, that you have to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation at work, if one is available. You probably think of physical surroundings or devices that may make walking, hearing or seeing easier, or providing additional breaks or rest periods for employees with a disability.
But what about an animal? As part of your obligation to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, are you required to allow an employee to bring a service animal if the employee wants to do so?
Service Animals Are Allowed
The answer is yes. If an employee needs a service animals, you are required to allow the employee to bring the animal, unless it would somehow jeopardize others’ health and safety (for example, a cook in a restaurant or perhaps someone working in a nursing home may not be able to, although you should always ask an employment law attorney before making a final decision on whether to allow a service animal or not).
The caveat here is that the animal has to be an actual service animal. That means an animal that is trained to do certain work that helps or assists the employee. The animal can assist the employee physically (such as a seeing eye dog, or a dog that can help with balance problems), or mentally.
The dog or animal does have to have undergone training. The simple fact that an employee has a disability and says the animal helps is not enough. An animal that just provides comfort is also not enough.
Examples of Training
For example, let’s say that an employee has anxiety, which causes the employee to have seizures. If the service animal simply makes the employee feel better, and keeps the employee calm enough that he or she doesn’t get angry, that is just an emotional support animal, and the employer would not have to allow the dog to accompany the employee.
However, if the dog were specifically trained to identify signs of anxiety or anger, or alert the employee that he or she was about to have a seizure, that would be a qualifying animal—the animal has specific training to perform a specific task or function.
What Employers Can Ask
Employees can ask what specific tasks the service animal has been trained in, or what function the animal serves to the employee. However, the employer cannot ask what the disability is, or require the employee to provide medical records.
None of this specifically forbids an employer from allowing an employee to bring an animal. Although there may be some liability issues (thing of bites, or co-employees who may be allergic), and although regulations may prohibit animals in some industries (like restaurants or certain food service establishments) if you want to allow an employee to bring an animal to the workplace for any reason, there is no legal impediment to that.
Call the West Palm Beach employment law attorneys at Pike & Lustig for help today if you have, or need to defend against, any kind of employment law litigation lawsuits.