Last week we established that you may have to allow your employee(s) to bring an animal to work. Not just any animal, though. You can still have a no pets policy. These animals would not be pets, though. I am talking about service animals. Under the right circumstances, the ADA may require you let these sometimes furry, sometimes four-legged, sometimes amphibious creatures into your workplace as a reasonable accommodation of a disability. Nothing in Title I of the ADA (which deals with employment issues) directly addresses this topic. We touched on some general questions last week. Read on and we’ll get down to more specific ones now…
OK, let’s talk turkey — or whatever animal may be appropriate under the circumstances. Here are some questions that may arise and some possible solutions.
If an employee brings a service animal to work, does an employer have to create/find a “relief area”? Frankly this should rarely if ever be a problem. There are usually nearby places outside where the employee can take the animal to relieve itself, such as an alley, a grassy spot or sidewalk near the building. You may want to talk with your employee about cleaning up after the animal, however. Bottom line: while the ADA does not specifically require you to create such an area, you may want to create one, or let your employee know that you are open to hearing his/her suggestions as to address any concerns.
What about training a service animal. Do I have to allow that in the workplace too? That may depend on who is training the service animal. Only employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA. If you have an employee without a disability who is training a service animal for someone else you do not have to allow that on your premises. If your employee does have a disability, and does request to have a service animal with him/her at work and to train the animal at your workplace, absent a state or local law to the contrary, you probably do not have to allow that either. You can probably refuse to allow the animal on premises either until it is fully trained, or at least until it can be on the premises without causing disruption. You can even ask your employee to demonstrate the animal’s level of training, that it will not be distracting to that employee, and that it will not be disruptive in the workplace generally.
What if I have employees with allergies to certain animals? The employee with the allergies may also be disabled within the meaning of the ADA, which means you may owe both employees reasonable accommodations. So now what do you do? One possibility is to minimize contact between the employees. For example, you might have the employees work in different areas of the building, and/or establish different paths of travel for each. You might allow one or both employees to either work from home or provide flexible scheduling and minimize overlapping work schedules. Perhaps none of those options are feasible. You might then (or also) consider minimizing exposure to the animal. Here are some ways you might do that: You might provide the employees with enclosed workspaces. Maybe a portable air purifier at each workstation would do the trick. Alternatively, you could help the employees come up with a plan so that they are not using common areas at the same time. If dander is the issue, most veterinarians supply appropriate products. You could require the employee with the service animal to regularly use dander care products on the animal. What if both employees have to be in meetings together? You might ask the employee with the service animal to be willing to use different accommodations just for the duration of the meeting. You could ask the employee with the allergies if s/he would be willing to wear an allergen mask. You could also make sure all carpets, cubicle walls and window treatments are dusted and cleaned regularly and install HEPA filters in all appropriate places. If the employee with allergies needs treatments or breaks, you will want to provide those accommodations as well. Continue brainstorming with both employees. Be creative!
What are some other options I should consider? Again, remember that whether an option is a reasonable accommodation will depend on your specific workplace, your business, your needs, your employee’s needs and his/her co-workers needs. With that said, here are just a few other possibilities you might want to consider
- Give the employee an office space away from high-traffic areas, maybe even near a door or other exit;
- Create a barrier-free, accessible path;
- Create/provide an area where the employee can tend to the animal’s care and basic daily needs;
- Designate an area where the animal can stay until the end of the workday if the animal is needed for travel to and from work;
- Provide general awareness training on service animals at work as well as sensitivity to and accommodation of qualified individuals with disabilities;
- Advise co-workers to, when approaching an employee with a disability to address the person, not the service animal;
- Remind employees that service animals (like them) are working. They are not pets.
- Let employees know that they should neither touch nor feed service animals without the disabled person’s permission.
OK, let’s stop here for now. Stay tuned next week, when we discuss emotional support animals at work. See you then!
Contents of this post are for educational/informational purposes only, are not legal advice, and do not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with competent employment counsel in the state(s) in which you employ people with your specific questions.
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