Best Disability Discrimination Attorney Reply: How can I get an employment accommodation for my service animal? Can my boss refuse to let me bring in my service dog? What laws protect me and my service animal? Is it unlawful disability discrimination if my boss doesn’t let me bring my dog to work?
I love my pets. For those of us who choose to make Fido a part of our families, they quickly become a central character in the home. According to this study, almost 90 million dogs live in homes across America, as pets. Pets are great. They provide endless, unconditional love and live to serve their family. I’m always on the lookout for an adorable video of a dog or cat being goofy or doing something hilarious. Recently, I came across a documentary about a service dog that helps a young girl while she’s at school. The whole time I was watching, all I could think about was how incredible service animals are.
The employment discrimination attorney in me, instantly thought about workplace discrimination that the girl from the documentary may one day face. It’s hard not to. It’s no secret that the lawyers at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, are incredibly passionate. After I finished watching the documentary with my family, I started looking up recent cases about service animals. Our frequent disability discrimination attorney blog readers know who is covered under the ADA, and what disability means. (See Do I Have A Disability Discrimination Case? and Can My Boss Fire Me Because of My Medical Condition?)
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the term “disability” is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of [an] individual.” “Major life activities” refers to things like caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, standing, liftin, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working as well as the operation of a major bodily function, such as the functions of the immune system, normal cell growth and so forth.
Under the ADA, businesses that provide services to the public—so basically almost everyone, must modify its policies, practices, or procedures (such as a prohibition on the presence of animals) to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability, where members of the public and others are permitted to go. Common examples of places of public accommodation are hotels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, sports stadiums, grocery stores and other retail stores, banks, libraries, gyms, etc. The take away here, is that workplaces fall under the ADA as an area where service animals are permitted.
The ADA prohibits employers from refusing reasonable accommodation requests to an employee who has made their disability known. A reasonable accommodation is any change to the work environment or in the policies or practices of an employer which enables a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his or her position or apply for a job. If an employee needs his or her service animal in order to perform his or her job, the employer must treat a request to use a service animal as any other request for a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability.
So what’s considered a service animal? Does my dog qualify? Well, that depends. First and foremost, in order to qualify under the ADA, the employee must have a documented disability. The employee with the disability must give employer notice that he or she has a disability and that he or she needs a service animal as a reasonable accommodation to enable him or her to perform the essential functions of the job.
Second, service animals are working animals, not a pet. Regulations under Title III of the ADA, define a service animal as:
Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
One frequently asked question our employment discrimination attorneys get all the time is, how much do I have to disclose to my employer about my disability? When an employee requests a service dog, it’s important to do so in writing, that way the employee will have written documentation of the request. In the request the employee should disclose their disability to their employer, and how the use of a service animal will specifically overcome, or mitigate that disability, and assist the employee in performing his or her job.
There are always practical concerns for an employer when bringing an animal into the office. Often times, employers are concerned with behavior of the animal, or care of the animal during the day. Sometimes there are other employees in the office who have very severe allergies that can’t be exposed to the service animal. Thus, an employer can deny an employee’s request to bring in a service animal if it would create undue hardship. This doesn’t mean that the employer can say things like, “No dogs allowed” or “Bringing your dog in would be too distracting.” Instead, the employer would have to show that it would be a significant burden or cost to allow a service dog in the workplace. It really depends on the work environment and the type of work that is performed. For example, it might be easier to accommodate a service dog in an office, as opposed to a potentially dangerous, plant production facility. Again, it just depends on if the employer can prove that it would cause undue hardship. Obviously, an employer cannot allow a service dog if it would trigger another employee’s severe allergies.
BUT, if there’s a solution to mitigate the difficulties of bringing a service dog into the office, the employer may have to explore some of those other options. These options could be moving employees who are allergic, away from the area where the dog or animal would stay, moving employees to private work spaces, such as offices, where the doors close, or even creating a schedule for the use of public spaces, such as lunch rooms so that allergic employees can avoid contact with the dog – if that would prevent an allergic reaction.
Our employment discrimination lawyers came across a case from Texas, which serves as a good example of disability discrimination and veterans with service animals. A man in Texas, Juan Alonzo-Miranda, was a decorated Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Juan served two tours in Iraq as a Marine. When Juan returned home, he worked at Schlumberger Technology Corp. Juan performed repairs on large oil field equipment. Just after a year and a half on the job, Juan found himself unable to re-assimilate to regular life. He had a panic attack and suicidal thoughts at work. It was after this incident that, Juan, requested that he be able to bring his service dog, Goldie, to work with him to help him cope with his PTSD. Goldie is a female Labrador Mix, with the highest level of training a service dog can have. She was donated to Juan from the Save a Warrior project. She was specifically trained to notice and respond to Juan’s PTSD. Also, Juan’s doctor was completely on-board, and recommended that he take Goldie with him, everywhere.
In response, Schlumberger asked for documentation. A LOT of documentation, and never responded to Juan’s request. After about five months of asking for accommodation, Juan lodged a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (See Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This First; File With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).
The EEOC investigated and ultimately found that Schlumberger discriminated against Juan because of his disability, in violation of the ADA. That’s because Schlumberger did not participate in “effective interactive process” and “required excessive medical documentation.”
Juan was finally permitted to bring Goldie to work. He couldn’t use the front door with Goldie. When he entered the premises, he had to use a side door. Further, he wasn’t permitted to go in the break room with Goldie. However, a few months later, Juan was fired from work, citing “poor performance” as the reason for his termination. Juan filed suit challenging the legality of the six-month period leading up to when Goldie was finally approved to come to work.
This case went to trial and the Juan won! The Jurors awarded Juan nearly $28,600, of which $5,386.50 of that money was to cover lost overtime wages related to Schlumberger’s failure to reasonably accommodate his disability, and $23,205 for compensatory damages for his pain and suffering.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Juan got a new job at a mortgage company, and Goldie goes to work with him every day. Juan’s case highlights an essential piece of asking for a reasonable accommodation. Schlumberger’s was required, by law, to participate, and actively try to find a reasonable accommodation that would be agreeable for Juan and the company. Schlumberger’s decision to remain silent and refuse to participate in the negotiation process is illegal. Ultimately, they paid for it. The jury found that behavior as reprehensible as our employment attorneys do. If you think that you’ve been denied a reasonable accommodation request, or your employer refuses to discuss reasonable accommodations you should contact and employment discrimination attorney immediately.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The best option is not to wait. Call our office at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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