Service Animals and the ADA

Published June 14, 2022

Adding a service animal to your workplace is a challenge for any manager, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has clear guidelines for you to rely on.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was written into law in 1990 by the George H.W Bush administration. It details how and when employers must provide or allow accommodations for employees living with disabilities. It also covers discrimination against people with disabilities, such as within your hiring processes or the general day-to-day running of your business.

The ADA is split into five sections, known as Titles. Title I applies to employment and is regulated and maintained by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Title I applies to employers or companies with 15 or more employees, and it covers:

  • Access to equal employment opportunities and benefits for those living with disabilities.
  • Reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
  • Guidelines on what defines disability, the ‘reasonable accommodations’ process, and what you should expect from medical examinations or inquiries.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

The ADA’s ‘reasonable accommodations’ guidelines cover the hiring process, as well as your employee’s actual job. The term refers to any changes or equipment necessary for your employee to access your interview process or anything they need to complete their work tasks, so they have equal access to the job as non-disabled candidates.

Where ADA considers an accommodation as ‘reasonable’ is anywhere that it doesn’t cause ‘undue hardship or a direct threat’ to your company or its activities. Things that are covered under ADA’s ‘reasonable accommodations’ guidelines include:

  • Interpreters, such as American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters
  • Service animals, such as hearing dogs for the D/deaf
  • Screen-readers
  • Accessible toilets
  • Flexi-time

What Does ADA Say About Service Animals?

Service animals fall under reasonable accommodations as provided by ADA. The ADA defines a service animal as a dog only. Occasionally a miniature horse may be allowable, but the term ‘service animal’ usually only applies to dogs.

A service dog is usually trained to perform tasks that either help the handler manage a health condition, navigate their surroundings, or alert them to health conditions like anxiety attacks or seizures.

The ADA does not consider emotional support animals service dogs. Still, it’s essential to understand that psychiatric or mental health service dogs are considered service dogs, and these are not the same as emotional support animals.

Service dogs do not have to be professionally trained, and the handler is allowed to train them themself. However, dogs intended for use as a service animal must be fully trained before they are considered service dogs under ADA’s guidelines - note, there are circumstances in which service animals in training may be covered.

There are many ways to accommodate a service dog in the office, and if you check out the other posts in this series, there are some great tips, such as:

  • Managing a service animal in the workplace
  • Types of Service Animals
  • Service animals for the blind
  • Service Animals for the Deaf
  • Service Animals for Physical Disabilities
  • Service Animals for Emotional Support or Mental Health
  • Managing a Service Animal with Other Employees

Managing the presence of service animals in your environment is not a difficult task, but it starts with awareness and education. Organizations should adopt strong accommodation policies that clearly define which processes and procedures will be used to ensure reasonable accommodation. 

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