Question: We have a new employee in our call center who has a service dog. She came to her interview and trained without the dog, but is now asking if she can bring her dog to work. Do we have to accommodate her request, and should we notify her co-workers in case they have allergies?
Answer: The first step will be to determine whether the dog is a trained “service animal” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or is an “emotional support animal.” A “service animal” is one that has been individually trained to work or perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. The animal must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with the disability. Allowing an employee’s trained service animal is a form of reasonable accommodation.
However, pets used for emotional support are not considered service animals under the ADA as they are not trained to perform a specific task. Although some states and some local governments allow individuals to have emotional support animals in public places, the same may not hold true for allowing such animals in places of employment. You will need to contact your local government agency to see if such laws exist. If not, you may set a policy that prohibits pets in the workplace except for ADA-defined service animals.
Employers are limited on what they can ask an employee when it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal. Employers may only ask:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
In addition, employers are not permitted to ask for documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate the task, or inquire as to the nature of the disability. The ADA does not require that trained service animals wear certain vests or collars indicating that they are service animals. Further, the ADA does not require the service animals to have a certificate of training.
Opening a dialogue with your employee about her need for the dog will provide you with guidance as to whether you need to allow her dog to remain with her at work. If another employee notifies you that he or she is allergic to dogs or dog dander, you may notify the employee with the service animal that due to the allergies of another employee, you cannot accommodate her request. However, you must engage in the interactive process with the employee with the service animal to consider other accommodations that would allow the dog to be with the employee.
Check with the Job Accommodation Network for resources to guide you in accommodating employees with service animals. If you do allow this employee to have her dog with her at work, remind her that she is responsible to ensure that her dog is always under her control and does not create a disruption to the work environment.