The benefits of having a dog or other animal are plentiful, and for individuals living with physical or mental disabilities, animals can offer even more. However, in recent years, the increase of people trying to cheat the system has caused others to question the need for these animals, especially emotional support animals (ESAs), and particularly when it comes to their presence in the workplace.
All of this skepticism has shed some light on the issue, but left many people unsure of their rights in the workplace. You may wonder if your animal and disability are covered and what legal rights you have if your employer turns down your request. Here are the essentials you need to know about emotional support animals in the workplace before you schedule an appointment to talk to your boss.
ESA vs. Service Animals
Service animals are allowed in most places you can go to, including workplaces. Dogs are the most common service animals, and they are trained to perform tasks for one specific person with a disability. You often see service dogs leading the blind or sensing an impending seizure for individuals living with seizure disorders. Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must be properly trained, tested, certified, and then identified as a working animal with a patch or tag. All people with a disability are guaranteed under the ADA to have reasonable accommodations in the workplace, which can include being able to bring your service animals with you.
ESAs are different than service animals. For example, individuals who live with psychological or emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, or some phobias may benefit from having an animal for emotional support. You may see dogs, cats, rabbits, or even birds listed as an emotional support animal. These companions give therapeutic support that is compassionate, non-judgemental, and affectionate. They may be the difference between living in isolation and being able to function normally in day-to-day life for some people.
A physician, psychologist, or other qualified medical professional in the mental health field can qualify an ESA for a patient who has an actual diagnosed disability. These animals are not covered under the ADA and therefore don’t have to be allowed into public or work environments. However, with the recent increase in the number of ESAs being prescribed, many workplaces and businesses have started to create policies for allowing ESAs in public.
Talking to Your Employer
If you have an emotional support animal, you need to know how to speak with your employer before you set up a meeting. It’s best to have answers to some of the most common questions they will ask and be prepared to deal with questions about the care of the animal during the day. Here are a few strategies you can use to prepare before you approach the subject of bringing an ESA into your workplace.
Do Your Research
There are many definitions you need to know before you talk to your supervisor or human resources department. Be familiar with the ADA and the terms of disability and discrimination. This will help you better understand your rights as an employee. You should also take the time to review your company’s handbook, and search for any current policies and procedures that outline the process for asking for reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
You need to consider what reasonable accommodations may look like for someone in your role. According to the ADA, reasonable accommodations are any changes in your work environment that allows you to do the essential duties of your job. These changes create an equal employment opportunity when compared to the general public.
Any reasonable accommodations you request must not cause an actual or potential hardship to your employer. An example of a reasonable accommodation is to allow an employee to sit down to complete work that is usually done while standing, or vice versa. If you work in an environment where an ESA may cause hardship, consider speaking with your employer about the option of working remotely so that you and an ESA won’t be in the office.
Know the Worth of Your ESA
If your animal’s primary responsibility is to provide you with emotional support, you need to fully understand the benefits of having an ESA and how to communicate this to your employer. Your ESA won’t be specially trained as a service dog, however, it can provide you with companionship, peace of mind, and a sense of calm when completing everyday tasks. It’s your responsibility to provide documentation to your employer when asking to bring your ESA to work with you. You may also need to show proof that your ESA was prescribed by a licensed mental health professional and records of your qualifying diagnosis.
Have a Plan
If your employer makes the decision to allow your ESA in the workplace, you are going to have to have a plan for its care. You will need to address concerns that your ESA is of service to you and not just a pet.
Think about logistics like bathroom breaks, treats, and water and food bowls before you talk to your boss. You should also consider others in the office and come up with a plan in case someone is allergic to your animal or has a deep-seated fear of dogs or other animals. You should also be prepared to show records of your pet’s last visit to the vet and that they are up-to-date on all vaccinations. Your medical or psychological provider may need to validate in writing how the animal will help you perform your job tasks as well as any training the pet has received that will help them behave in the office.
Heading to Work as a Team of Two
Emotional support animals have gotten a bad reputation in recent years due to negligence by many people hoping to cheat the system. This is a frustrating, but true part of society.
Because of this growing skepticism regarding service and ESA animals, you might face an equally skeptical employer who either doesn’t understand what an ESA is, or doesn’t understand why you need one. However, with proper documentation, postive and clear communication, certification, and more, minds can be changed, and you may find yourself victorious against negative stigmas.
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest. You can follow her on twitter @Jori Hamilton and see more of her work at writerjorihamilton.contently.com.