What to know about accommodating service animals in the workplace
According to Wikipedia, service animals are working animals that have been trained to perform tasks that assist disabled people. This service could be at home or at a business or public place. People with disabilities deserve equal treatment in the workplace. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees should create a conducive environment for employees with a disability to work. They should also avoid any form of discrimination. Empowering such employees can be done in various ways, from changing the location of their desks to making your premises accessible.
In some cases, empowering such employees will include allowing service animals into your workplace. How should you handle this without inconveniencing the rest of the workforce or discriminating against the employee?
Service animals as reasonable accommodations
Allowing service animals into your workplace can be confusing – there are numerous legal frameworks around it. Under Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, private employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation for any employee with mental or physical disabilities.
These accommodations empower them to work while avoiding any discrimination against them. However, the exception is if there is the possibility for undue hardships. An interactive process is then to be followed when choosing alternatives.
The interactive process for reasonable accommodation
There are situations when allowing a service animal on-premise might be impossible. For instance, while almost every employee knows service dogs, most might not know anything about mini horses as service animals. Having a mini horse at your workplace might be tough in most cases.
If you have issues with fulfilling the reasonable accommodation, you should ask the employee about the other alternatives. Even though the employee picks an alternative that works with their service animal, the discussions don’t end there. HR professions still need to ask whether there are other ways to make the employee comfortable besides the first option.
When not to allow service animals
The undue hardship exception covers situations where accommodating the animals will be economically or administratively burdensome. For instance, allowing an employee to bring a dog to work might be considered a direct threat to the well-being of the other employees. As long as the employee with a disability can keep the dog in check, there is nothing to worry about here.
On the flip side, taking the animal into sterile environments might not be ideal. For instance, there are hospital rooms where the patient could easily get an infection, such as active operating rooms and burn wards. In such cases, the animal should not be an acceptable accommodation in the room.
Be flexible with reasonable accommodation
The ‘undue hardship’ accommodation is difficult to describe. Some hardships are tough to circumvent, while others are easy to find workarounds. The trick is to look for ways to accommodate the employee before even thinking about banning any animal.
For instance, there could be a client who has dog allergies. This could be an issue if the client comes into contact with an employee with a disability. The trick would be to urge the employee to leave the dog at home or work in a different area when the client visits. However, it would help to discuss the issue with both parties to avoid discriminating against the employee.
Support your employees with disability
Employees with a disability can be as productive as typical employees. All that’s needed is for you to create the right environment for them to flourish. Please do your best to accommodate their service animals to ensure your employees with disabilities are always happy and productive.