With new innovations in psychology and medicine, more and more doctors are prescribing support animals to assist individuals with physical or mental disabilities. However, accommodating these needs can be difficult for employers and doing so naturally raises other questions. But, employers must be prepared to engage in an interactive process with the employee and legitimately consider whether or not the employee’s request for a support animal as an accommodation is covered by or deemed reasonable under Title I of the ADA.
An initial question to ask is, “Does the employee have the necessary documentation from a doctor explaining the need for the animal and showing the need is directly related to the disability?” The employer may also inquire into the animal’s training (including having the trainer show how the animal performs such tasks) and whether or not that training is meant to help the employee directly with their disability. Furthermore, the employer must consider if the accommodation causes an undue hardship to the employer. Although the first thought may be, “What if another employee is allergic to the service animal or scared of the service animal?”, such a fact alone is not reason under the ADA to deny the employee’s request. ADA case law goes as far as requiring an employer to separate the employee with the allergy/fear and changing air filters more often.
Notably, unlike Title III of the ADA (public access) which restricts service animals to dogs or miniature horses, Title I does not. Does this mean any animal may be considered a service animal in a workplace setting? Possibly. Some of the most unique animals one would not think of that can actually serve as service animals are squirrels, monkeys, pigs, parrots, and even boa constrictors. One of the most unique scenarios of a service animal comes from the State of Washington, where a man by the name of Daniel Greene suffers from seizures. As a result, he walks around all day with his boa constrictor around his neck. The boa constrictor is able to sense when Mr. Greene is about to undergo a seizure before Mr. Greene notices, and warns Mr. Greene by squeezing him more tightly. This allows Mr. Greene enough time to take anti-seizure medication or go to a safe place where he can’t be hurt if he undergoes a seizure. As such, Mr. Greene would have a very good argument to bring his boa constrictor to work as an accommodation for his disability.
As an employee, you must be prepared to give all the necessary documentation regarding the animal’s training, and the doctor’s diagnosis/recommendation to use the animal to the employer. Also, if the employer allows the employee to bring a service animal to work, it is solely the employee’s responsibility to care for, monitor, and clean after the animal. For example, taking the animal out for a walk and to use the bathroom, or making sure the animal stays in one spot and does disturb others in the office.
Given service animals in the workplace are still a gray area, it is important for both employees and employers to consult an attorney before requesting an accommodation or granting an accommodation, this way both parties may sure they are complying with the ADA and there is no confusion that may lead to unlawful actions. If you or your company have a service animal related question or any other questions regarding the ADA, set up a consultation with Wilson McCoy, P.A. Our firm has extensive knowledge surrounding not just the ADA but all other laws that may play a role in your employment setting.