When Service Animals Create Disruptions in the Workplace
Employers Must Prepare for Challenges When a Service Animal is in the Workplace
Employers should be prepared for challenges that may arise when a disabled employee begins to bring their service animal to work. Employers who anticipate the various issues associated with having an animal on the premises may be able to avoid problems by taking preventative measures.
Setting ground rules and establishing a clear set of policies and procedures in the company handbook is one of the best ways to ensure that the disabled employee and your staff clearly understand the consequences that will transpire if company rules are broken. It is also important to arrange a meeting with the employee prior the animal’s introduction to the workplace. During your discussion, make sure that the employee is fully aware of and understands the company’s policy on service animals.
What is a Service Animal?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog individually trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability. Service dogs are working animals that assist individuals with impaired vision, hearing, mobility, PTSD, or other disabilities to perform specific tasks. Title II and Title III of the ADA also state that "entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go." 1
Service Animals are Working Animals, Not Pets.
Service dogs perform numerous functions that are specific to the needs of the person with the disability. Examples of tasks that a service dog may perform include safely guiding individuals who are sight impaired, identifying certain sounds for those who have trouble hearing, assisting a mobility impaired person by pulling their wheelchair, protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure, reminding an individual with a mental illness to take their prescribed medications, or calming a person who is experiencing severe anxiety or panic-related symptoms due to PTSD. Service animals are working animals, and although the owner and the dog may form an emotional bond, it is important to understand that service animals are not pets. Under the terms of the ADA, dogs whose only function is to provide comfort to their owners are emotional support animals and do not qualify as service animals.
Possible Disruptions When a Service Animal is Present in the Workplace
Many potential disruptions can occur when a service animal is introduced into the workplace. Some of these include the following:
When a disabled individual brings a service dog to work, it is their sole responsibility to maintain control of the animal. According to the terms of the ADA, service animals must be controlled using a harness, leash, or tether. When the individual's disability prevents them from effectively using these kinds of devices to control the animal or if the devices interfere with the animal's ability to perform its tasks, the individual must be able to maintain control by voice command, hand signals, whistles, or use other methods of control.
Suppose another employee in the workplace complains about the presence of a service animal on the premises because they are allergic to dogs. In that case, the employer must also try to accommodate the employee who suffers from allergic reactions. While employers generally cannot refuse to allow a service animal into the workplace because another employee has allergies, the employer may be able to move the person suffering from a reaction to a location as far away from the animal as possible. Other ways to mitigate problems with allergies include:
Provide one of the employees with a private or enclosed workspace.
Add HEPA filters to the existing ventilation system.
Allow flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time.
Allow one of the employees to work remotely.
Create plan to ensure the employees are not using common areas at the same time.
Employers should also consider drafting a written agreement with disabled employees to address any damages caused by the service animal. The contract should state that if the service animal damages company property, the employee will bear the costs of cleaning or repairs.
Fear of Animals
When another employee is afraid of dogs, the employer must consider the needs of both employees. If the frightened person is so overcome that they cannot perform their duties, it is possible that the employer can ask that the animal not be allowed in the workplace.
The same principle may also be applied if the service dog's presence is so distracting to other employees that these workers are no longer performing their jobs effectively.
Even though issues may arise when a disabled employee brings their service dog into the work environment, it is essential to note that the ADA affords special protections for disabled individuals. Employers should always seek reasonable accommodations for a disabled worker who requires the accompaniment of a service animal in the workplace.
Employers Must Set Expectations Regarding Service Animals
Employers must be proactive when a disabled employee requires the help of a service animal. The employer should meet with the disabled worker before the animal is brought into the workplace. During the meeting, the employer should set expectations about how the disabled employee must control the service dog's behavior. The discussion should include all of the disabled worker's responsibilities that pertain to the care and control of the service animal:
Maintain the cleanliness of the workplace.
Make sure the animal does not create a distraction in the workplace.
Ensure the animal is clean and well-behaved.
Manage additional breaks necessary to attend to the animal's needs.
Control the animal by keeping it on a leash or tether.
Have another employee care for the animal if the employee cannot attend to it for a short period.
Ensure the animal is quiet, calm, and socialized.
Ensure that the animal does not destroy property.
Educating Your Staff
The ADA’s confidentiality rules state that employers cannot tell their staff about an employee’s disability or the arrangements the employer has made to accommodate a disabled coworker. This means that providing training to your employees about how to treat a service animal can be challenging. Employers should ask the disabled employee who will be using the service animal how he or she would like to handle coworker education. If the employee does not want to participate in this process, then the employer may just want to let coworkers know that there will be a dog on the premises and the employees are not to interact with it.
Your Company Policy on Service Animals in the Workplace
It is not uncommon for employees with disabilities to request that their service animal accompanies them to the workplace. Employers can prepare their organization to accommodate disabled employees with service animals by providing members of their staff with a clear understanding of the company's policies and procedures. Including information in the employee handbook is an effective way to share your company's rules and regulations with everyone on your team. Call us at the Lynch Law Firm, and we will review your 's service animal policy for free! And if your organization does not have a service animal policy, our attorneys can create one for you.
Creating Policies and Procedures
Employers can prepare themselves to accommodate disabled employees with service animals by providing everyone with a clear understanding of the company's policies and procedures. The ground rules for employees who bring service animals to work should be clearly defined in the company handbook. The more these rules are agreed upon and established before the service animal is brought into the work environment, the greater the likelihood that the accommodation will be successful. Including information in the employee handbook is an effective way to ensure everyone understands your rules. If your organization does not have a service animal policy, our attorneys can create one for you. If you already have a service animal policy, the attorneys at the Lynch Law Firm will review your policy for FREE.
Creating a Service Animal Agreement
Employers are wise to anticipate potential problems when service animals are brought into the workplace. Hopefully, there will never be an issue, but employers are smart to document all steps the organization has taken to accommodate a disabled person with a service animal. These policies and procedures should be part of the company's employee handbook, and the employee should sign a service animal agreement. The attorneys at the Lynch Law Firm can also assist you in creating a binding legal contract.
The Lynch Law Firm is now offering to review your company's service animal policy at no charge. This offer is valid only for a short time! Call us now to set up your appointment.
The Lynch Law Firm Supports Texas Unites for Animals
Natalie R. Lynch, the founding member of the Lynch Law Firm, shared her legal expertise at the annual meeting of the Texas Unites for Animals Conference in the fall of 2022. Established in 2015, Texas Unites is an animal welfare support organization that serves Texas and its surrounding states. The entity was created to provide information, support, and guidance by enhancing professionalism in the animal welfare industry and promoting respect and compassion for all life. Every year, over 500 people across Texas come together to share their passion for animal welfare.
As a lawyer with tremendous compassion for all those in the animal kingdom, Natalie was pleased to donate her time and expertise to the conference last year. Although her presentation focused on the labor and employment issues that pertain to shelter professionals and volunteers, she also discussed various other topics, including the distinctions between volunteers and employees, free speech and public space, discrimination, and whistleblowing.
Consult With the Lynch Law Firm for Free Now
Service animals are essential to the well-being of their disabled owners. When disabled employees ask to bring their service animals to work, employers must be prepared to address the request by ensuring they have a service animal policy. These policies and procedures should be available in the employee handbook. If you are an employer and would like the Lynch Law Firm to review your organization's service animal policy for free, please call us at 512 298 2346. If you do not currently have a service animal policy, we can help you with that too.
The Attorneys at the Lynch Law Firm Can Navigate Your Legal Matter from Inception to Resolution
If you are an employer with a labor and employment law issue, the Lynch Law Firm has the resources to help you find a resolution. The attorneys at the Lynch Law Firm team can also assist you in developing the following:
· Workplace Investigations
· Harassment Prevention Training Modules
· Employee Manuals
· Performance Evaluation Materials
· Employment Contracts
· Legal Agreements for non-disclosure, non-compete, and severance.
About Natalie Lynch: Founding Attorney
Natalie R. Lynch, a business and employment law attorney in Austin, Texas, has demonstrated expertise in workplace investigations, employment law, and entity formations. Having lived abroad in Ghana and Spain, Natalie brings unique perspectives to help organizations conduct business nationally and internationally. Credentialed through the Association of Workplace Investigators (AWI), Natalie is the only consulting and credentialed expert in Central Texas who conducts investigations into allegations of harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environment. As a credentialed dispute resolution mediator, she routinely collaborates with general counsel, internal and external counsel, employment litigators, employment generalists, and senior human resources professionals.
Natalie is the outgoing Chair of the Austin Bar Association's Labor and Employment Section. It serves in leadership roles for the Texas State Bar Association, including the International Bar Section and the Animal Law Section. In Colorado, Natalie was a two-term president of the Aurora Bar Association, the first recipient of the Colorado Bar Association's Future Leaders award, and a member of the Bar Association's Executive Council.
Natalie believes in using the best practices to achieve the best results. Her extensive business background and solution-focused, no-nonsense approach enable her to excel at business formation, transactional matters, employment law, workplace discrimination matters, contracts, and employment litigation avoidance. She began investigative training in 2006 under the tutelage and guidance of forensic psychologists and industry royalty like Elizabeth Imhoff Mabey and Eugene Ferraro. Today, she uses that expertise to conduct workplace investigations and perform related services. As a credentialed AWI investigator, Natalie has extensive training in interviewing techniques and an exceptional and beneficial skill set in the legal field. Natalie insists that each investigation represents the standards of quality and litigation avoidance on which she built the Lynch Law Firm.
Natalie is a business owner. She received her undergraduate degree in international studies from Texas A&M University and a J.D. from South Texas College of Law, subsequently studying at the University of Denver. She is licensed to practice law in Texas and Colorado and holds Women-Owned Business (WBE), Minority-Owned Business (MBE), and Historically Under-Utilized Business (HUB) certifications.
Natalie firmly believes that animals should be treated with respect and contributes her time and resources to improving the welfare of animals with the Texas Humane Legislative Network. She also enjoys rallying behind her son's athletic endeavors, interacting with her two rambunctious dogs, and tending the garden she keeps behind her home.
About Brian Levy: Litigation Attorney
Brian Levy is a labor and employment attorney who focuses his legal practice on litigation. His experience includes representing employees and employers in single, multi-plaintiff, and collective action disputes before state and federal trial courts, appellate courts, and administrative agencies. Always seeking to avoid costly court cases, Brian also represents his clients by using a variety of methods for dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration. Brian also represents employees in cases regarding employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, non-compete agreements, and wage and hour disputes. Brian strives to balance the litigation process and cost to achieve the best results for his clients.
Before joining the Lynch Law Firm, Brian practiced labor and employment law with a Houston-based firm with a statewide practice. Based in Houston and Austin, he managed cases throughout Texas. He practiced in trial courts, handled federal and state appeals, and wrote briefs for the United States Court of Appeals and Texas's Supreme Court.
Brian received a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Studies and a Specialization in Corporate Communication from the University of Texas at Austin and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law Center. A Houston native, Brian was on his high school's ice hockey and golf teams. He attended the University of Texas for his undergraduate degree, "But" he quips, "I was born a Longhorn because my parents met there as students." Outside the office, Brian is an avid hiker. He also enjoys food—cooking and eating it. To support his hobbies, Brian keeps a vegetable garden and takes pride in using fresh produce in his meals. Brian also loves animals, especially his French Bulldog, Ella.