Service Dogs in the Workplace

April 11, 2017

Inquiries about employees seeking to bring service animals to the workplace is becoming more commonplace. We are aware of at least one lawsuit filed by the EEOC against a trucking company alleging failure to accommodate, refusal to hire and retaliation, as a result of the company’s failure to hire a veteran who applied for a job because he uses a service dog to manage post-traumatic stress disorder and mood disorder. Don’t become the next headline.   

Service animals are trained to perform tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. Examples include guide dogs for the blind or deaf, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, and calming a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Service animals are working animals, not pets.   

Under the ADA, all businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of their facilities that the public is normally allowed to go. Use of a service animal in the workplace is also protected by the ADA. Service animals must be harnessed or leashed, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls. This does not mean that all employees may bring their pets to work.   

Workplace Rules for Service Animals 

  • What if I’m not sure why the person has a service animal or if the dog is a service animal?   
    When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed:    

    1. Is the service animal required because of a disability?
    2. If not obvious or known the employer may treat the request the same as any other request for an accommodation and require medical documentation.
  • What if one of my employees is allergic or afraid of dogs?   
    Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access to an employee’s service animal. If a co-worker is allergic or afraid of dogs and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations. 

  • Under what circumstances can I ask that the service dog be removed?   
    A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless the dog is:   

    1. Out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it.
    2. Not housebroken. 
  • Must I provide anything to the service animal? 
    No. You are not required to provide care or food for a service animal. However, the employee must be allowed to care for the animal which includes taking the service animal out to relieve itself. 

Contributed by Aaron D. Graves and Maureen Rouse-Ayoub of Bodman.