Does my employer have to let me bring my service animal to work?

Question:

I went through a traumatic experience and was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to therapy and medication, my doctor has recommended that I get a dog to help me cope with my disorder. I would have to bring the dog with me to work, but my employer has a strict no-pet policy. Can my employer refuse to allow me to bring the dog to work?

Answer:

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities, unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Allowing an employee to bring a dog to work can qualify as a reasonable accommodation, but only if the dog qualifies as a “service animal” under the ADA.

A service animal is any dog (and in some cases, miniature horses) that is trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability. Acceptable tasks include, among others, picking up a dropped item, guiding a person who is blind, pressing elevator buttons, sending for help, or reminding a person to take medication. However, a dog that has not been trained in any specific task and provides only emotional support or comfort does not qualify as a service animal. These animals are called “emotional support animals” and are not covered under the ADA. (A minority of states, including California, have disability discrimination laws that include emotional support animals as a reasonable accommodation.)

From your question, it’s not clear exactly what the dog will be doing to help with your PTSD. If the dog’s sole purpose is to provide you with emotional comfort, and it hasn’t been trained to recognize and respond to the symptoms of your disorder, then your employer won’t be required to accommodate you. However, if the dog performs any tasks that will help with your PTSD, such as reminding you to take medication or calming you down during an onset of anxiety, your employer must accommodate you.

You should let your employer know that you need the dog because you have a disability, but you don’t need to specify what your disability is. Your employer can ask you what specific task the dog has been trained to perform, but it cannot ask for a demonstration or require you to provide a medical certification.

For more information on service animals in housing or in public settings, see Nolo’s article, Psychiatric Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals: Access to Public Places & Other Settings.

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