Animal Accommodations Under Title I of the ADA
While Title III of the ADA requires service animals to be permitted in areas of public access, Title I, which pertains to employment, only requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. As such, an employee with a disability does not have an automatic right to have his or her service animal in the workplace. When confronted with an animal accommodation request, an employer should engage in the interactive process.
In EEOC v. CRST Int’l, Inc., Case 1:17-cv-00129-CJW-KEM (N.D. Iowa), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a complaint against a trucking company claiming that the employer wrongfully failed to accommodate a truck driver’s request to have his dog with him as he drives his trucking routes. The dog provided emotional support for its owner’s post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). The complaint states the truck driver’s psychiatrist “prescribed” an emotional support animal to help him cope with his disabilities and “maintain appropriate social interactions.” During the hiring process, the driver requested that his dog accompany him while driving; however, a manager apparently “pressured Laferriere to leave his service animal at home and refused to provide a reasonable accommodation.” Claiming it had a “no pet” policy, the company rescinded the offer of employment. CRST’s motion for summary judgment was denied on the driver’s discrimination and retaliation claims.
In Clark v. Sch. Dist. Five of Lexington & Richland Ctys., 247 F.Supp.3d 734 (D.S.C.2017), the court found a reasonable accommodation might permit a teacher to bring her emotional support dog to work. Pearl, a Chihuahua, was trained by the teacher and allegedly assisted her in warding off panic attacks. The teacher’s doctor opined that she had PTSD and that “forcing Ms. Clark to teach without the assistance of her service dog will be profoundly detrimental to her well being.” The school cited various reasons for not allowing Pearl such as student allergies, students’ fear of dogs, and the potential for distraction. Despite its arguments that Pearl was not a reasonable accommodation, the school’s motion for summary judgment was denied.
Employers have a legal duty under Title I of the ADA to engage in the interactive process and determine whether an applicant’s or employee’s request for use of a service animal is appropriate or an undue hardship. Service animals should be treated like other accommodation inquiries. Be cognizant of assuming an employee has to bring a dog or other animal into the workplace. Employers should be prepared to dig deeper and explore alternatives. This includes asking the right questions. As part of the interactive process, the employer may request documentation to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps the individual perform his or her job. The employer may also request a description of how the animal is trained. Consider setting ground rules ahead of time, such as where the employee will take the dog to relieve itself. Employers should also consider the effect the animal may have on employees who have allergies. The Job Assistance Network outlines several options for employers who are dealing with employees who are allergic to a coworker’s service animal: allow the employees to work in different areas of the building; establish different paths of travel for each employee; use a portable air purifier at each workstation; allow flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time; allow one of the employees to work at home or to move to another location; develop a plan between the employees so they are not using common areas at the same time; and have the work area cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed regularly.
Employers need to be prepared for animal accommodation requests. They are becoming commonplace and, thus, should be treated in the same, structured fashion as any other accommodation request. Allowing a service animal is not a legal obligation if another accommodation is available.