If you rely on a service dog for help with a mental or physical disability, both federal and California law allow you to bring your animal to work if you need it. Before you do, make sure you know your rights and obligations regarding your service animal.
Which Animals Qualify?
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) allows employees with disabilities to bring assistive animals to work. These animals are generally dogs, but can also be some other animal trained in assisting a disabled person.
In addition to traditional service animals like those used by people with visual or hearing impairments, the law also allows animals that provide “emotional or other support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities, such as major depression.” So long as a person has a disability and the animal provides some type of support, it is allowed under the FEHA.
Who Is Covered?
Employers who have at least five employees must abide by the FEHA and its rules regarding assistive animals.
In order for an employee to use an assistive animal at work, the employee must have a mental or physical disability that makes it difficult to perform a major life activity. These disabilities do not have to be visible or even apparent—illnesses like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and seizure disorders all qualify as a disability under the assistive animal law. A person does not qualify as disabled under the FEHA if he or she has a temporary or mild condition that does not limit his or her activities.
What Employers Can and Must Do
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for service animals. This means that unless the employer can demonstrate that allowing an assistive animal would be an undue hardship, a disabled person should be able to bring his or her support animal to work.
Employers have the right to ask for a medical certification from a health care provider confirming the employee’s disability. The definition of a “health care provider” is expansive and includes medical doctors as well as other professionals like mental health therapists, psychologists, chiropractors, and physician assistants.
The employer can also require that the animal meets certain standards. The employer can require the animal:
- To be free from offensive odors and displays habits appropriate to the work environment,
- To not engage in behavior that endangers the health or safety of the individual with a disability or others in the workplace; and
- To be trained to provide assistance for the employee’s disability.
If the employer has objective evidence that an assistive animal does not meet these standards within the first two weeks of it being in the workplace, the employer can legally challenge the employee’s need for the animal.
This article, Support Animals In The Workplace: Know Your Rights, first appeared on Labor Law Office, APC.