Employers need to consider employee requests to bring service animals into the workplace as a reasonable accommodation. But permitting the employee to bring a service animal to work may only be the beginning of the discussion. Other types of accommodations may be required.
First, if an employee believes he or she needs a services animal at work, it would be the employee’s obligation to obtain the appropriate animal. Employers do not have to go so far as to provide a service animal or even provide care for it. Those are the responsibilities of the employee. But employers may have to give the employee the time to do so. As such, the employer’s reasonable accommodation might include providing the employee with breaks during the workday to feed the animal or take it outside.
Employers may also be required to provide the employee with space for the service animal, just as it would be required to provide space for a wheelchair or other assistive device. As such, the employer’s reasonable accommodation might include providing the employee with a larger or private office space, a workspace near the entrance or exit, and access to common areas such as restrooms, break rooms and meeting rooms.
Further, employers may also have to provide unpaid time for the employee away from work to train the service animal.
Last, but not least, employers may have to provide training to other employees regarding service animals in the workplace. Indeed, it is a best practice for employers to provide such training to its workforce. Employers can expect that other employees may seek to pet or play with the service animal. However, service animals are “on the job” just like their owners, and are not there to be petted or played with. Many service animals even wear vests saying they are not to be touched or pet when “on the job.”
Of course, with the owner’s permission, the employer may choose to designate times or places for other employees to interact with the service animal, subject to the owner’s discretion.
Employers should consult with counsel regarding specific situations and regarding any applicable federal, state or local laws regarding obligations to provide such accommodations.