The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act 0f 2008 (“ADAAA”) states employers must recognize service animals as a form of reasonable accommodation. This article discusses the rights and responsibilities of the employer and disabled employee when a disabled employee requires a service animals while at work.
Reasonable Accommodation and the ADAAA
The ADAAA requires employers to accommodate an employee with an ADAAA defined disability so the employee can perform the essential function of the job. The use of a service animal at work is a form of reasonable accommodation.
Employers are not required to provide an accommodation if the accommodation poses a direct threat or is an undue hardship. An undue hardship would be service animals that are aggressive toward others, continually bark, or are not housebroken. However, other workers’ pet allergies or fear of service animals generally is not a reason for denying the use of a service animal.
Under the ADAAA, if there is more than one reasonable accommodation for the disabled worker, the employer chooses which reasonable accommodation to use. This means an employee could deny the service animal accommodation if there is another reasonable accommodation that would allow the disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
What Animals are Service Animals?
Dogs and miniature horses individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities are service animals. Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.
No other animals are recognized as service animals. This means an employer does not have to allow a disabled employee to bring to work any other animal as a service animal.
What Services Must the Animal be able to Perform?
A service animal must provide services that allows the disabled employee to do the essential functions of the job. The ADAAA gives as examples of services allowing the disabled employee to do the essential functions as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
Animals that only provide comfort or emotional support are not service animals under the ADAAA.
The Employee’s Responsibility
Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, 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.
The disabled employee is responsible for care and feeding of the service animal.
What can the Employer Ask?
An employer can ask the disabled employee for medical documentation of the employee’s disability if the disability is not apparent. For example, an employer could ask the employee who needs a service animal for alerting and protecting the employee who is having a seizure for documentation of the seizures because the seizures are not apparent. However, an employer could not ask a blind employee for medical documentation of the blindness. The blindness is apparent or clearly visible.
What to do if Your Rights have been Violated
If you believe your employer has improperly denied your request for a service animal as a reasonable accommodation, review your employer’s Anti-discrimination Policy to determine who you should speak to and arrange a meeting with that person. If your employer does not have an Anti-discrimination Policy, find the person or persons responsible for the Human Resources Department. Have a meeting with that person and explain why you feel you have been discriminated against. Give the employer as many specific facts as you have and listen to the employer’s explanation.
If, after speaking with your employer, you still think your employer has discriminated against you because of a disability or has not provide you with a reasonable accommodation, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Civil Rights Division at the Arizona Attorney General's Office as soon as possible.
Here is their contact information.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
3300 West Central Avenue, Suite 690
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Telephone:(602) 640-5000 or 1-(800) 669-4000 or TTY 1-(800) 669-6820
You have 300 days from the date of the last incident to file a charge with the EEOC.
Arizona Attorney General Civil Rights Division
1275 W. Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007-2926
Telephone: (602) 542-5025
Arizona Civil Rights Division
400 West Congress, Suite 315
Tucson, AZ 85701-1720
Telephone: (520) 628-6504
Arizona Civil Rights Division
1000 Ainsworth Drive
Prescott, AZ 86305-1610
Telephone: (928) 778-1265
There is a time limit to file a charge. You have 180 days from the date of last incident of disability discrimination to file a disability discrimination charge. These charges must be filed with the Civil Rights Division at the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
Federal Agency Employees and Job Candidates for Federal Agencies
There is a much shorter time to file a claim for employees who work for the U.S. government and job candidates who have applies for a U.S. government job. Those people must contact a federal agency EEO counselor within 45 days of the last incident of harassment. The agency that you work in or applies with will provide you with the name and contact information of the EEO counselor.
Legal Correspondent: Dave Smith