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Alert white dog wearing service dog harness laying at the foot of owner who is sitting in a wheel chair

What Employers Should Know About Service Animals?

What Is a Service Animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a working animal trained to do certain tasks for a person with a disability. The work or task must be directly related to that person’s disability and cannot be to provide comfort or emotional support. These animals must be under the handler’s control, housebroken, and must be tethered or on a leash unless it interferes with the tasks the animal provides. These animals can either be professionally trained or owner trained.

Though dogs are the most common animals, the ADA also has a provision for miniature horses. The factors for having a miniature horse as a service animal include:

1) the miniature horse must be housebroken;

2) the miniature horse must be under the owner’s control at all times;

3) the facility must be able to accommodate a miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and

4) the miniature horse’s presence does not compromise legitimate safety requirements for operating the facility safely.

Examples of tasks service animals can provide include but are not limited to assisting and alerting a person with Diabetes that their blood sugar is high or low, alerting a person who is deaf, assisting a person with mobility issues, calming a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferer during an anxiety attack, and many more.

What is the difference between a customer and an employee service dog, and what are your responsibilities as a business owner?

While Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to provide people with disabilities equal opportunity to benefits, and Title III of the ADA describes public accommodation requirements for people with disabilities, Title I of the ADA outlines accommodations employers must make for employees with disabilities. Under Title I, employers with 15 or more employees must accommodate individuals with disabilities so that the employee(s) “benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others” and “requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations.”

Do employers have to allow service animals in the workplace?

Though allowing a service animal is a way to make reasonable accommodations, Title I does not specifically address service animals. This means an employee must go through the same process of requesting their service animal as a reasonable accommodation as any other employee needing accommodations. The ADA allows employers to choose among effective accommodations; however, some accommodations may not be considered a substitution for a service animal.

Can employers require or ask for documentation on a service animal?

Though business owners can only ask if the animal is a service animal and what tasks it provides according to Title III of the ADA, an employer can ask for more information from an employee. According to the Job Accommodation Network, the ADA allows employers to “request reasonable documentation that an accommodation is needed because of an employee’s disability.” This typically comes from a healthcare provider; however, some people do acquire a service animal without written approval of a doctor. An employee may also provide a letter or training certificate from the trainer of the service animal, but this cannot be required as there is no federal requirement a service animal must be professionally trained. Another option is a trial period, which allows the employee to bring the service animal into the work environment for a probationary period to ensure the animal provides a service to the employee and does not burden the employer.

Business owners and employers, alike, should be aware that they cannot request or accept certification or registration documents as proof. This is because the ADA and the Department of Justice do not recognize certifications or registrations as proof, and these documents do not convey any rights because they can easily be forged or purchased online, and they do not indicate if a person has a disability or a need for a service animal.

Is an employer allowed to notify other employees of a service animal in the workplace?

Though many people are allergic to dogs or may have a phobia of dogs, the ADA’s confidentiality rules restrict employers from disclosing information about a disabled employee’s accommodations. An employer can indicate that a dog may be present in the workplace and instruct other employees not to interact with it, but they cannot provide an explanation. If a different employee comes forward with an allergy or phobia, the employer must also accommodate that employee. Some suggestions from the Job Accommodation Network are:

  • Allowing the affected employee to work in a different area of the building;
  • Using an air purifier at the employee’s workstation;
  • Allowing for flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time; or
  • Regularly cleaning the work area.

Who is responsible for the service animal in the workplace or business?

The handler of the service animal is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal at all times, including feeding, grooming, and veterinary care for the animal. The handler must maintain control of the animal at all times and can be asked to leave if the animal is aggressive, misbehaving, or disruptive.

What Does Arkansas Law Say about Service Animals?

Arkansas has adopted the federal definition of service dog as defined in Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Arkansas allows service dogs in training the same public access rights as other service animals as long as the animal is under control and not burdening the workplace. Furthermore, Arkansas law states an individual cannot misrepresent an animal as a service dog and doing so can result in a civil penalty not to exceed $250 for each violation.

Questions about Service Animals? We Can Help

Our experienced employment lawyers at The Law Group of Northwest Arkansas PLLC can advise clients on how to comply with current laws regarding service animals. Whether you’re an employee or employer, it is important to understand your responsibilities and rights regarding service animals in the workplace. Call us at 479-316-3760 or contact our office to ensure that you are complying with ADA requirements regarding service animals in the workplace.

Disclaimer: The Law Group of Northwest Arkansas PLLC (TLGNWA) provides general information about a variety of legal issues on this website as a public service. Information contained herein should not be considered legal advice on any specific matter. The use of information and reference links contained in this website do not constitute contractual, de facto, implied or any other form of attorney-client privilege or relationship. TLGNWA is not responsible for the use of information, forms, links, or documents contained in this website.

Due to the frequency and speed of changing laws, no guarantee is made as to the current validity or applicability of the information contained herein. Though we try to update information often, we recommend that readers with questions investigate current law or contact TLGNWA directly through our contact form or by calling (479) 334-3411.