Emotional support animals have a limited number of rights compared to their servicing counterparts. Service animals are allowed to be with their patients in any common areas that anyone else can frequent. We detail the differences for you in this article.
Here's what you need to know about understanding the difference between service animals and emotional support animals in the workplace:
- Employees must submit a request for reasonable accommodation for their service animal just like they would with any other accommodation request.
- Unless the disability merits an untethered service animal, it should always be leashed or harnessed.
- No matter how different it may seem to have an animal in the workplace, an individual with disabilities must have an equitable working environment by law.
According to Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers may not discriminate against a qualified person because of a disability. On top of that, they must provide reasonable accommodation to an individual with disabilities so they can perform their essential job tasks. Therefore, In the spirit of fostering a more inclusive work environment, more workplaces are updating their policies to include the presence of service animals.
As part of the designated process, employees must submit a request for reasonable accommodation for their service animal just like they would with any other accommodation request. They need to be able to prove that they have a disability and are unable to perform their job duties without this accommodation.
When discussing something as critical as a reasonable accommodation, it’s essential to know what:
- Qualifies as a service animal or emotional support animal
- The differences between service and emotional support animals
- An employer can do to make room for suitable employment without breaking any laws or coming off as insensitive
Some businesses may think twice before allowing an animal into the workplace. Particularly if a non-traditional service animal or emotional support animal is the requested accommodation. Some companies may see this as unreasonable or a danger to other employees. For example, at first glance, an “emotional support horse” may not be the best fit (literally) for a small business. So, let’s get more understanding of the topic.
Titles II and III of the ADA define service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” Examples of service animals are those that:
- Alert a Deaf person
- Calm a person with PTSD during a flashback
- Guide a person who is blind
- Protect a person from harm or warn them before a seizure
- Pull a wheelchair
At this time, there aren’t many all-encompassing programs for training that certify an animal as a service animal. Still, service animals are usually (but not always) wearing a vest, harness, or collar that indicates that they’re on duty.
Some businesses may think twice before allowing an animal into the workplace. Particularly if a non-traditional service animal or emotional support animal is the requested accommodation.
Per the ADA, service animals should be allowed in:
- State and local government locations
- Nonprofit organizations
- Businesses that serve the public
Service animals are allowed to be with their patients in any common areas that anyone else can frequent. This includes:
- Public transportation
As such, any establishment with a policy or notice stating “no pets” is null for service animals, even when food is served or allergies are present. These businesses don’t have to abandon this policy altogether. Still, it should be noted that a service animal is not a pet.
Emotional Support Animals
Dogs whose tasks have been defined as providing comfort in the effort of emotional support are not qualified as service animals under the ADA. This can make distinguishing between emotional support animals and service animals a little more complicated.
Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals if their job is to provide emotional support or comfort. This distinction can sometimes be evident in cases where they are not trained to perform a specific job for their patient.
Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals if their job is to provide emotional support or comfort.
This isn’t to say that they don’t still provide efficient therapeutic benefits to their patrons, though. These animals are more suited to ease the symptoms associated with:
- Major depression
- Anxiety disorders
- Other psychological disorders
An emotional support dog is only differentiated from a typical pet if they are prescribed by a mental health professional.
Emotional support animals have a limited number of rights compared to their servicing counterparts. For example, a service animal can be on an airplane with its companion – usually in their lap or at their feet. However, airlines are no longer required to allow accommodations for emotional support animals.
There are some important things to unpack after gathering all this information. A few stipulations and exceptions apply to service and emotional support animals.
Characteristics of proper service or emotional support animals
Service animals are classified as dogs (and sometimes miniature horses), while emotional support animals can be any type of animal. Regardless, the animal must be current on all its checkups, well-maintained, and in good health.
Employees with a service or emotional support animal who need them to effectively perform their work duties must submit documentation asking for reasonable accommodation. The documents should detail how the animal will help them successfully perform their job duties.
By law, employees are not required to produce a certificate that the animal has been trained under a specific program. However, employers can ask for their health and vaccination history to guarantee the safety of their other employees.
Reasons that a service animal can be excluded from the premises
Service animals are required to be always under the control of their handler. Unless the disability merits an untethered service animal, it should always be leashed or harnessed. Service animals must also be housebroken and cannot be disruptive in any other way, such as:
- Excessive barking
- Acting out of control
Employers are allowed to deny a request for a service animal if the presence of the animal presents the company with undue hardship. These include certain safety issues that could cause harm to the animal, customers, or employees of the business or establishment.
This could include factory or construction workers, where the animal could be in danger of falling objects or heavy machinery. Another example would be doctors or surgeons, where a dog in an operating room would pose a health risk for patients.
How employers can make an accommodation
What does all this mean for businesses, companies, enterprises, or corporations where their employees may require a service animal to help with ailments related to their disability? As long as a person is qualified to do a job, it’s against the law to discriminate against them by not allowing them to work or be reasonably accommodated.
As mentioned earlier, dander allergies are not valid reasons to deny a service animal. If an employee has allergies to a service animal, accommodations must be made for both employees. This can be done simply by assigning them:
- Different locations in the office
- Different lunch hours
- Using creative scheduling
It’s a more thoughtful response to buy some air purifiers to place around the office. This can be unrelated to having a service dog in the office, as it promotes healthier air circulation. Employees with allergies will especially be appreciative of the extra care.
Dander allergies are not valid reasons to deny a service animal. If an employee has allergies to a service animal, accommodations must be made for both employees.
Although it isn’t a company’s responsibility to provide supervision, food, water, or other care for the service animal, it would be a nice gesture to offer it to the employee.
If there is an undue hardship that prevents a service animal from being with its patron, employers must still offer effective alternative accommodations. If possible, the employee could be permitted to work remotely where their animal can be by their side.
No matter how different it may seem to have an animal in the workplace, an individual with disabilities must have an equitable working environment by law. Employers will do well to reference the ADA laws and use their lawyers as a resource when receiving a request for a service animal or emotional support animal.
Businesses must always ensure they’re being as reasonable as possible if one of these requests surfaces. This will ensure they know they are doing their best to treat their employees equally and morally.