Some people with disabilities use animals at work to assist them with a variety of tasks. For example:
If you have a service dog or emotional support animal, read on to learn your workplace rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Under the part of the ADA that applies to public accommodations—restaurants, stores, and such—a service animal is defined as a dog (or sometimes a miniature horse) that's individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. This definition doesn't include companion animals (pets) or emotional support animals—animals that provide comfort and companionship to people with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions.
But the part of the ADA that applies to employment (Title I) doesn't use these same definitions. In fact, the employment discrimination part of the ADA doesn't define service animals at all.
Under the ADA, an employer can be required to allow an employee to use a service dog at work as a reasonable accommodation for the employee's disability. An employer also has to consider allowing an employee to use an emotional support animal or another assistance animal if the employee requires the animal as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.
If you have an ADA-qualified disability, you're entitled to reasonable accommodations that will allow you to do your job unless it would create an undue hardship for your employer. (Undue hardship is defined as a significant expense or burden, given the size and resources of the company.)
If you need an accommodation to do your job, you must request one. It's best to put your request in writing. Making a written request for accommodation ensures you have a record of the following:
In your letter, describe your disability and how it affects you. Explain that you'd like to bring a service dog or support animal to work as an accommodation, and describe how the animal will assist you in performing your job.
Give details. Describe how your animal has been trained and the tasks or work the animal does (for example, pulling your wheelchair, alerting you to the onset of a seizure, or calming you when you get stressed). You might also describe how you'll care for the animal at work, including:
If you request to have your service dog or emotional support animal at work as an accommodation for your disability, your employer can request documentation of your need for the animal and how the animal's function is related to the disability.
Your employer can also ask for documentation of the following:
Note that these rules are different than for a service dog in a public place, where a facility can ask only whether a dog is a service animal required for a disability and what tasks the animal performs.
An employer can deny your request to bring your service animal to work if it would create an undue hardship for the company. But your employer can't simply say, "we don't allow dogs," or "it'll be too disruptive to let you bring your dog to work."
Instead, the employer must show that allowing the accommodation would impose a significant burden or cost, given the following:
Sometimes, employers are concerned that it might be an undue hardship to allow a service dog if other employees have dog allergies. In this situation, there might be solutions that aren't too costly or disruptive, such as:
Your employer can certainly require that your animal not disrupt the workplace. For example, your service animal should be under your control and well-behaved at all times. You should arrange to allow your animal to "use the facilities" as necessary, and the animal should be clean and free of fleas and other parasites.
If your employer denies your request to bring a needed service animal to work, you should talk to an employment discrimination lawyer. A lawyer can help you assess the situation and decide the most effective way to proceed, such as writing a demand letter to your employer or filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Learn more about hiring a disability discrimination lawyer to enforce your rights under the ADA.
Updated March 6, 2023