A possible accommodation for an employee’s disability may be the use of an assistive animal in the workplace. What considerations should go into deciding whether to allow this accommodation? Here’s a handy checklist to help employers respond—keeping in mind that they have only 10 days in which to do so.
Note that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act regulations started using the term “assistive” animal about four years ago, but the federal Americans with Disabilities Act uses the term “service” animal. In the state scheme, “service” is just one type of assistive animal, with the others being “guide,” “signal,” and “support.”
__ 1. Evaluate whether the animal the employee is requesting as an accommodation qualifies as an assistive animal. The animal must be necessary as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability, such as
__ a. A guide dog trained to guide a blind or visually impaired person;
__ b. A signal dog or other animal trained to alert a deaf or hearing-impaired person to sounds;
__ c. A service dog or other animal individually trained to the requirements of a person with a disability; or
__ d. A support dog or other animal that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities, such as major depression.
__ 2. Request medical certification confirming the existence of a disability or medical condition and the restrictions that the employee has as a result of that condition. (An Internet certification is not a sufficient medical certification for the purposes of the interactive process.)
__ 3. Request documentation showing that the animal is licensed by the county or other appropriate local licensing authority and that the animal is appropriately vaccinated.
__ 4. Go through the interactive process and perform a thorough analysis as to whether the request is reasonable, whether the accommodation will effectively allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the position, and whether there is an undue burden present. Factors to consider include
__ a. Whether there are any health or safety concerns inherent in the workplace. For example, does the employee work with food or in a setting where health codes prohibit the presence of animals? Is the workplace a laboratory or other area that requires a sterile environment?
__ b. Whether there are any health or safety concerns of others. For example, do any coworkers have allergies or a fear of animals? If so, evaluate whether mitigating measures could be taken so that both the employee that needs the assistive animal and the employee who has difficulty working in the proximity of the animal can be accommodated.
__ 5. Document any decisions related to disapproval or termination of a request for an assistive animal as an accommodation.
__ 6. If an assistive animal is approved as a reasonable accommodation, develop an agreement with the employee about the expectations and parameters of the accommodation, including
__ a. That the animal must be free from offensive odors and displays habits appropriate to the work environment (e.g., the elimination of urine and feces outside of the workplace);
__ b. That the animal must not engage in behavior that endangers the health or safety of the individual with a disability or of others in the workplace;
__ c. That the animal will be kept up to date on licensing and vaccinations, and that the employee will provide documentation of these measures as requested; and
__ d. That the employee agrees to have the animal with him or her at all times (i.e., the employee will refrain from asking other coworkers to watch his or her animal).
__ 7. Evaluate the efficacy of the assistive animal arrangement. Determine whether the assistive animal is effectively addressing the employee’s disability or restrictions and whether there has been any adverse impact on the operations of the workplace or on other employees.
__ 8. Keep a calendar to make sure all documents (vaccination records, licensing records) are up to date. Keep a reminder calendar to check in with the employee, coworkers, and/or the employee’s supervisor to ensure that the accommodation continues to be reasonable and effective and does not impose an undue burden.
For guidance on disability accommodation, including checklists and sample form letters to use in the interactive process, turn to CEB’s Drafting Employment Documents for California Employers, chap 6.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- 15 Steps to Help Employers Move through the Interactive, Accommodation Process
- Disability Accommodation: The Big Picture
- 10 Steps to Hiring Without Violating Disability Discrimination Laws
© The Regents of the University of California, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.