Employee Disabilities and Service Animals

Employee Disabilities and Service Animals

If an employee in Chicago is disabled, what does the law say about permitting service animals in the workplace? To better understand employment discrimination surrounding employees with disabilities, it is important to be clear about the use of service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Learning more about service animals and the ADA is important not only for disabled employees who may qualify for a service animal, but also for employers to ensure that they are complying with the law. An FAQ sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice provides some helpful questions and answers for employers and employees alike.

What is a Service Animal?

The first and most important question concerning service animals and the ADA is a simple one: what is a service animal? This is actually a very specific category. Under Title II and Title III of the ADA, a service animal is defined only as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”

To be clear, a service animal, for the purposes of protection under the ADA, can only be a dog. While some employers do permit employees to bring emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy animals to work—which can include dogs, cats, and other pets—these animals are not defined as a “service animal” under the ADA, and an employer does not have to accommodate an employee with an emotional support animal.

Service Animals Are Trained to Perform Specific Tasks

In addition, the tasks that the dog performs need to be directly related to the employee’s disability. What does this mean in practice? As a helpful booklet from the ADA National Network explains, some examples of service animals include but are not limited to:

  • Guide Dog or Seeing Eye Dog for a person with blindness or a severe visual impairment;
  • Hearing Dog or Signal Dog for a person with deafness or hearing loss;
  • Psychiatric Service Dog that can provide a wide variety of services for persons with psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • SSigDOG, or a sensory signal dog or social signal dog, for a person with autism; and
  • Seizure Response Dog for a person with a seizure disorder.

These are not the only types of tasks that a service animal can provide. For instance, a person who has diabetes may have a service animal that is trained to alert the person to high or low blood sugar. The important thing to remember, though, is that a person cannot claim that an animal is a service animal under the ADA simply by providing information about a medical condition from which she or he suffers, and which could be relieved with help from an animal.

When Can Service Animals Be Prohibited?

There are some instances in which the ADA does not require an employer to permit a service animal on the premises. For instance, if the service animal “would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public,” an employer does not have to modify its existing policies or practices to accommodate the service animal.

These issues can become quite complicated, however, and it is always a good idea to discuss your situation with an experienced Park Ridge employment discrimination lawyer. Contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline today to speak with an experienced labor lawyer.