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Must employers allow service animals in the workplace?

Unlike Title III of the ADA, which requires service animals to be allowed in all areas of public access, Title I, which regulates employment, only requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. Therefore, an employee with a disability does not have an automatic right to have his or her service animal in the workplace. As with all requests for a reasonable accommodation, an interactive process should be undertaken with the employee to determine which accommodations, if any, would be appropriate and not cause undue hardship.

In 2011, the Department of Justice revised Title III of the ADA to narrow the definition of “service animal” under the law. While these definitions under Title III do not apply to Title I (employment), it is possible that the definition could be used by employers to help determine whether a service animal accommodation request is reasonable. Per those revisions, 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.” The rule also permits the use of trained miniature horses, subject to limitations, but they were not included in the definition to “maintain flexibility where the use of horses would not be appropriate.” While this definition may be helpful, it does not preclude other types of service animals from being considered a reasonable accommodation under Title I. Therefore, employers will need to consider all requests made and work with their attorney before denying such a request.

A common question posed by employers is, “What if other employees are afraid of or allergic to the service animal?” While consideration could be given to whether these issues constitute disabilities under the ADA and would require accommodation, assuming they were, the accommodations for all employees with disabilities only have to be reasonable. Banning all service dogs from a place of employment would not likely be seen as “reasonable,” as it would be a disadvantage to all service dog owners and may lead an employer to unreasonably favor one disability over another. To be sure, these situations should always be discussed with legal counsel for sound advice, but other accommodations, such as telecommuting, air cleaners, private offices, restricting animals from certain areas in the workplace, etc., would likely be found more reasonable than automatically ruling out one disabled employee’s accommodation request as an accommodation to another disabled employee.


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