Is a Service Dog a Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA?

November 7, 2017

Accommodating employees with disabilities presents a number of challenges, but those associated with mental health disabilities can be particularly difficult. This is illustrated by a recent case from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Arndt v. Ford Motor Co., in which the court held that employers may need to accommodate employee requests for accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to have a service dog in the workplace.

The court identified the following factors that an employer should consider when determining whether or not a reasonable accommodation could include a service dog:

  1. Is the employee’s medical professional knowledgeable about service dogs and the employee's work environment?
  2. Is the service dog's trainer familiar with the employee's work environment and role?
  3. Was the service dog trained for the employee's workplace environment and role?
  4. How much information did the employee provide the employer?
  5. What safety and health considerations can the employer identify?

The Arndt decision highlights some of the complexities associated with requests for accommodations under the ADA. The Arndt decision also shows that accommodation requests which may, at first glance, appear to be unreasonable, must be given serious consideration before any final decisions are made. To ensure employers meet their obligations under the ADA, they should be able to demonstrate that they engaged in the interactive process with the employee requesting the accommodation (i.e., met with the employee to discuss the need for an accommodation and possible alternatives).

In the event an accommodation is denied, the employer should also be able to articulate specific, job-related reasons which support its position that the requested accommodation is unreasonable.

Contributed by David M. Cessante, Clark Hill PLC.

View the on-demand webinar “Mental Health Issues in the Workplace” with David.