The ADA requires businesses to include reasonable accommodations in their policies for people working with disabilities. One of those accommodations includes the use of service animals in the workplace.
Across America, over 500,000 service dogs help people with a variety of disabilities on a daily basis. These animals allow people to go to work, perform daily tasks, and can even alert them when something is wrong with their own health.
But, what does a business have to do to make sure they’re following the rules and regulations of the ADA? How can your workplace better accommodate those with disabilities by allowing service animals?
The more you know about what service animals are required to do (and how they’re different from support animals), the better you can refine your business policies to be more inclusive toward those with disabilities, especially if they have a service dog with them.
What Goes Into Being a Service Animal?
So, what officially qualifies as a service animal? First of all, it requires quite a bit of training. The Americans With Disabilities Act states that a service dog must be trained, or in the process of being trained. But, any dog can go to obedience school and learn how to sit and stay. Service dogs have to go well beyond the basic commands.
Yes, they have to be obedient. In fact, you should sign them up for an obedience class and make sure they master the test. Beyond that, service animals need to pass a public access test. In order to pass, they can’t show any signs of aggressive behavior or over-excitement due to distractions. They’ll also need to cease sniffing habits unless they’re commanded to do so. Service dogs are often around a lot of people, especially in the workplace, so they have to be able to stay focused.
Once they’re fully trained, service animals can assist people with vision or hearing impairments, mobility issues, or even diseases like diabetes. They can help to complete tasks for their owner, and provide medical alerts for those who need it.
Knowing the Rules to Prevent Discrimination
Unfortunately, far too many people have abused the system when it comes to “faking service animals.” It’s easy to buy a vest for any dog and make people believe they’re a service animal. But, all that does is put the importance of real service animals in jeopardy. You can equate this to faking an injury so you can get a handicapped parking spot. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and it’s detrimental to those who really need it.
It’s important for your business to know the rules when it comes to bringing a service animal into the workplace. Knowing service animal laws can help. The Department of Justice doesn’t require certification for dogs to be considered service animals. That being said, there are plenty of programs out there that offer “service dog certification.” Your employee may offer some type of certificate, and while it’s not necessary, it may give you some insight into whether their need for a service animal is legitimate or not.
Only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals, under the law. If someone wants to bring their cat to work claiming it’s a service animal, you don’t have to allow it. Invest in learning more about how the service animal assists your employee, and what you can expect in the workplace from the animal. Simply put, the animal should serve a purpose that directly relates to the employee’s disability. For example, if you have an employee with mobility issues, their animal should be able to assist them with standing up or be able to retrieve things for them.
Making sure you develop a culture in your business where your employees understand the difference can help to prevent harassment against your disabled employees or their service dogs. In fact, interference with a service dog is actually a misdemeanor and could land you in jail or with a hefty fine to pay! Instead, you can encourage an environment where service dogs are welcomed and appreciated for those who really need them.
How Can Your Business Support Employees With Service Animals?
So, what can you do to support your employees who have a service animal? Again, making reasonable accommodations is the best solution. That looks different for every business, but some ideas to keep in mind include:
- Establishing barrier-free travel paths
- Giving the employee a workspace that is near a door
- Allowing the employee and animal equal access to breakrooms, restrooms, etc.
- Providing a private area for the employee to tend to the animal’s needs
- Allowing periodic breaks
It may also be beneficial to consider telecommuting as an option for disabled employees or those with service animals. Not only does telecommuting allow that worker to remain comfortable in their own home, but there are many business benefits to this practice, too, including an increase in employee happiness and savings for your company of up to $10,000 per employee.
The best thing your business can do for disabled employees and everyone else who works for you is to establish awareness of what a service animal is and what they do. Creating the right culture within your company that puts people with disabilities on the same field as everyone else is not only the lawful thing to do, but it’s the ethical thing to do.