When we think of service animals, many of us might imagine dogs who help the visually impaired navigate their environments, but they can do much more than that. Federal law defines a service animal as a dog that has been specifically trained to help an individual with a disability, whether it’s a physical or mental disability. This can include anything from helping a person having a seizure to preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors in people with psychiatric or neurological disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees who require a service animal to assist them in handling their disability throughout the course of the day. That may sound like a hindrance to employers, especially if they have a no-animal policy, but employers don’t have to do much, and what they do contribute can have a huge payoff by helping all their employees perform their best.
The employee with the service animal should be responsible for taking care of the animal, including giving it food and water and taking it outside to relieve itself. The only things an employer might need to worry about are supplying a comfortable space for the animal to inhabit during the workday, a space outside for the animal to relieve itself (which should be readily available in any case, as dogs can do their business anywhere outside), and perhaps a work-space for the employee near a door so they can easily take the service animal outside to relieve itself.
Issues might arise if another employee is allergic to dogs, but even that can be handled with things like personal air purifiers and organizing the employees’ schedules and/or routes through the office so they don’t cross paths. The allergic employee can wear an allergen/nuisance mask, if they agree to it, or either the employee with the service animal or the employee with the allergen can work from home, if the nature of their job allows for it.
Employers with a no-animal policy are not making exceptions or setting a new precedent by allowing service animals into the workplace. Instead, they’re creating an opportunity to open up discussion about service animals in the workplace and to educate all their employees on the many benefits service animals can provide and how they play an integral role in the lives of the people they help.
Allowing service animals into the building also allows employers to maintain compliance with the ADA and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOC). Employers should never hire someone else over a qualified candidate with a disability just because they don’t want to deal with a service animal. A little accommodation on the part of the employer can go a long way and show other employees that people with disabilities are just people and that they can perform their jobs as well as anyone else.
Additionally, many recent studies have shown the benefits of allowing animals in the workplace during work hours. Service animals should never be fed, petted or played with when they’re working, but just having them in the office can significantly reduce stress and boost productivity.