When is allowing dogs in the workplace barking up the wrong tree?
- Employers who think workers are more productive when surrounded by the things they care about most, such as their pets, sponsor occasional “bring a pet to work” days. But is there a time or circumstance when bringing pets to work crosses a legal line? Heather G. Anderson, a Knoxville-based attorney with Miller Anderson Law Group, PLLC, told the Knoxville News Sentinel that she receives an increasing number of questions about the law’s take on bringing pets to work.
- Anderson said that pets in the workplace fall into two categories: Comfort or emotional support animals (ESAs), which are companions, and service animals, which are primarily dogs that are trained to perform tasks for people with physical or mental disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers can deny a request for a comfort animal, but a service animal is where the ADA comes into play.
- Comfort animals aren’t trained, but owners can go online and have their pets registered as ESAs, said Anderson. She warns employers about automatically denying employees’ requests to bring an ESA to work because a legitimate reasonable accommodation might be necessary, and a denial could be violating the law.
Federal and state laws protect employees with disabilities from workplace discrimination. The ADA requires that employers talk collaboratively with workers when they request a reasonable accommodation.
So, employers initially should treat a request as if it were a reasonable accommodation. However, they should ask workers for medical documentation to back up their requests, then decide whether a situation merits a reasonable accommodation.
Anderson was quoted in the report saying that most case law on ESAs and service animals involves tenant/landlord disputes. Employers may be newcomers to this area of the law, she added, but they certainly have experience with the ADA and should comply fully with its provisions.