Should dogs be allowed in the workplace?

From employer liability to improving office culture, there are strong arguments to be made on both sides. Generally, it is up to the employer to weigh the pros and cons of a dog-friendly office then decide accordingly. But in some cases, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) dictates whether dogs must (or must not) be allowed in a specific workplace based on individual employee needs.

Here we will examine a few examples of common scenarios that arise related to dogs in the workplace and the ADA. If you fall into one of these categories and find that your employer is not complying with federal regulations, you may need to contact an employee rights lawyer in your area who handles ADA cases.

ADA Provisions for Service Dogs

If an employee with a disability requires a service animal to help them perform the essential functions of the job, the ADA generally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, as requested by the employee. In this case, the accommodation would be allowing the dog, provided that doing so does not cause the employer undue hardship.

It is important to note that only dogs are recognized as service animals: Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Some states may use a broader definition than the ADA’s.) The service animal must stay under the owner’s control and must be restrained.

Service dogs may not be accommodated in workplaces requiring a sterile environment, like a medical lab or a restaurant kitchen. Allowing dogs in those types of settings may compromise patient, product, or food safety.

ADA Provisions for Animal Allergies

While dog allergies do not invalidate the provisions of the ADA, the law may also protect a person with allergies serious enough to be a disability. And even if not considered a disability, the allergies could make that employee less productive, indicating 

If an employee has a severe allergic reaction to dogs, the employer will most likely not be allowed to open the workplace to dogs. But if one employee requires a service dog and another is severely allergic, there can be a conflict.

When These Needs Conflict

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut solution to the conflict, and people have a variety of opinions on this topic. According to the ADA, ideally, the employer will find a way to keep the two in separate areas of the building, so the one can have their service dog and the other can avoid the allergy trigger.

Additional adjustments may be required to develop a win-win solution. Since creating ADA accommodations is a unique, interactive process that requires good-faith discussion, the employer and the two affected employees should meet to discuss their options. Possibilities to consider include:

  • Provide one or both employees with private/enclosed workspace.
  • Use a portable air purifier at each workstation.
  • Adjust the employees’ work schedules so they do not work at the same time.
  • Allow one of the employees to work from home or in another location.
  • Allow employees to take rest breaks if needed (ie: to take allergy medicine).
  • Ask the employee who uses the dog if he or she is able to temporarily use other accommodations during meetings attended by both employees.
  • Provide alternatives to in-person communication, such as email and videoconferencing.
  • Add HEPA filters to the office’s ventilation system.
  • Ensure that the work area (including carpets and floors) is cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed regularly.

Different Degrees of Dog-Friendliness

For employer liability purposes and dog allergies, the best decision may be to limit dogs in the workplace to service animals, rather than allowing for a dog-friendly office that allows employees to bring their dogs to work as they please. If having dogs is seen as a major perk, one option is to make it a special occasion rather than an everyday thing by holding an annual or semi-annual Bring Your Pet to Work Day.

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