Service & Support Animals at Work: Know Your Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit employers from discriminating based on disability. Employers must engage in an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations that allow a disabled employee to work successfully.

Often, an employee will want to bring a service or support dog to work. Is this a reasonable accommodation? Generally, yes. Here’s what you need to know.

Service Animal vs. Support Animal

A service animal is an animal trained to recognize and respond to the owner’s disability. Service animals include guide dogs, signal dogs, and psychiatric service dogs, among others. Service animals are useful to those suffering from a variety of conditions, including:

Emotional support animals are not trained to provide support, but still provide emotional or cognitive help and comfort by their presence. They are often used for people suffering with mental health disorders.

Federal law only requires employers to accommodate service animals, not support animals. But California law requires employers to accommodate both types of animals unless it is an undue hardship.

California Employment Law on Service and Support Animals

California employers with five or more employees are generally required to accommodate service or support animals, provided that:

  • The animal must display appropriate behavior in the workplace (i.e., it cannot be aggressive and must be house-trained)
  • The animal must not be a distraction
  • The animal must not pose a health or safety threat to others (e.g., it should be up to date on its vaccinations, be free from fleas and other parasites, and be friendly and non-aggressive)
  • The employer may require that the animal be documented by the employee’s health care provider as necessary for the employee to perform essential job duties
  • The animal must actually help the disabled employee perform essential job functions. (Examples might include guiding a blind employee, alerting an epileptic employee of an oncoming seizure, or pulling an immobile employee’s wheelchair.)
  • The animal must not place an undue burden on the employer.

If you have a disability and believe your service or support animal meets these requirements, you should get a doctor’s note and request accommodations. Your employer must engage in the interactive process and allow the animal to work with you unless it is an undue hardship.

Practically, most office settings can accommodate a service or support animal. It may be more challenging for an employer to accommodate a service animal in a factory or warehouse setting. Whether this is an undue burden usually hinges on whether the animal is a safety risk. In general, well-trained animals are less likely to be an undue burden.

Common Employer Mistakes About Service Animals

If an employee requests a service or support animal, it is illegal for an employer in California to:

  • Make blanket statements, such as, “We don’t allow dogs,” to deny a request
  • Require proof of the animal’s specific training
  • Require the employee to indemnify (pay) the employer for any harm the animal may cause
  • Refuse to engage in the interactive process. Even if allowing the animal would be an undue burden, the employer should try to grant other accommodations to help you succeed at work.

It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for requesting a service or support animal. This means you cannot be fired for requesting a service animal at work.

Talk to an Experienced Employment Attorney Today

At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers stand up to their employers. If you have a disability and have been refused a service or support animal, we are here to help.

Need legal help? We are experienced disability discrimination attorneys with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. Contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.

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