SERVICE ANIMALS AS WORKPLACE ACCOMMODATIONS: A PRACTICAL APPROACH Because more people are using service animals, employers are receiving more requests from employees who want to use their service animals in the workplace. This guidance is based in part on information from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but does not represent the EEOC’s formal position on these issues or legal advice.
Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) include a definition of service animal? There is a definition of service animal and specific guidelines in parts of the ADA, but not in the part that deals with employment. Under the employment provisions (title I), there is no definition of service animal and no specific guidelines for employers to follow when an employee asks to bring a service animal to work.
Do employers have to allow employees with disabilities to use service animals in the workplace? Because title I does not specifically address service animals, a request from an employee to bring a service animal to work can be processed like any other request for reasonable accommodation. This means that employers must consider the request, but do not have to automatically allow employees to bring their service animals to work.
What this means for employers: From a practical standpoint, a request to bring a service animal to work is really a request for an employer to modify its no-animals-in-the-workplace policy. If you do not have a policy and allow other employees to bring in animals, then you should allow employees with disabilities to bring in service animals without going through the accommodation process. For employers who have no-animal policies, you must consider modifying those policies on a case by case basis to allow an employee to use a service animal at work, unless doing so would result in an undue hardship.
What this means for employees: You should ask your employer before bringing a service animal to work unless the employer allows animals in the workplace in general.
Can employers opt to provide other accommodations instead of allowing an employee to use a service animal in the workplace? The ADA allows employers to choose among effective accommodations so an employer might opt for another accommodation, although providing a substitute accommodation for a service animal could bring up other tricky issues. For example, the service animal may help with personal, medical issues. Service animals may also provide support that other types of accommodations cannot provide, such as a sense of security, independence, and confidence.
What this means for employers: In general, employers should not be involved in an employee’s personal medical decisions so you should not insist that an employee take care of his medical needs in a different way. Because a service animal often helps with personal medical needs and provides supports that employers cannot provide, when possible you should give preference to an employee’s request to use a service animal in the workplace.
What this means for employees: When requesting to use a service animal in the workplace, you may want to explain to the employer that the service animal also provides personal and medical support.
For additional information, feel free to contact NASA Disability Manager Rebecca Doroshenk at (202) 358-0038, Rebecca.D.Doroshenk@nasa.gov.