Service Animals in the Workplace

Close up of golden retriever wearing vest that is labeled "service dog".Requirements in the employment provisions of the ADA.

Service animals are considered a "reasonable accommodation" under Title I of the ADA. Unlike Title II and Title III of the ADA, there are no specific requirements regarding service animals in Title I, the employment provisions, of the ADA.   Therefore, the use of a service animal in the workplace must be requested by the employee as a reasonable accommodation.

Requesting to Use a Service Animal on the Job

Employees with disabilities may request to use a service animal as a reasonable accommodation. As with any other type of reasonable accommodation request, the service animal should be necessary in performing the essential functions of the job or in functions necessary for working, such as getting to and from work and/or mobility throughout the workplace.

Types of Service Animals

Title II and III define a service animal as a dog (and when reasonable, a miniature horse.) However, because there is no definition of a service animal given in Title I, employers may be required, if reasonable, to allow animals other than dogs to be used as service animals. In some instances, emotional support animals may also be considered as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace.

Types of Tasks

The service animal must perform a task or serve a purpose that is necessary for the individual to successfully perform the essential functions of the job and the task must be directly related to the employee's disability. Service animal use generally falls into three main categories: 1) assistance in daily tasks and routines such as guiding and alerting to sounds, 2) medical related assistance such as seizure alerts or relieving anxiety, 3) assistance in transporting to and from work.


Employers may request documentation to show why the service animal is needed and what it does for the employee. For example, a person who has an anxiety disorder may be required to provide medical documentation that an emotional support animal is recommended to relieve anxiety. When it is obvious how an employee will use a service animal (such as a blind individual requesting to use a guide dog), there really is no need to require documentation of how the animal will assist the employee.

Employers may also request documentation that the animal is trained to perform a task related to the employee's disability and/or is trained to behave appropriately in a busy work setting. This documentation may come from the provider who trained the animal. If the employee trained the service animal, the employee can be asked to explain in greater detail what the service animal does and how it behaves.

Criteria to Determine "Reasonable"

Employers should decide whether to grant or deny a request to use a service animal on a case by case basis. Criteria may include:

  • Is the employee a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA?
  • Does the animal perform a task or assistance that is directly related to the employee's disability and ability to perform the essential functions of the job?
  • Would the presence of the animal change the fundamental nature of the business/workplace?
  • Does the animal pose a safety hazard or a direct threat to others?

Note: Denial should not be based on past experiences with service animals, speculation, or the possibility of a problem. A trial period is often a recommended option to decide if anticipated problems are actually legitimate.

Care of the Service Animal

The employee is responsible for the care and feeding of the service animal. It is recommended, however, for the employee and employer to work out where the service or emotional support animal will stay, where supplies, food and water will be kept, appropriate spots for the animal to relieve itself, etc.


Thomas works as a customer service representative. He does most of his work on the phone and meets with some customers in his office. Thomas is also blind and uses a guide dog to get to and from work. Thomas requested that his dog continues to stay at the office shortly after he accepted the position. The employer granted his request to keep the dog at work. Thomas keeps the dog in his office along with food and water uses his lunch hour to take the dog for a walk.

Kathleen is a college instructor. She recently requested to use a seizure alert dog at work and provided medical documentation of both her seizure disorder and her doctor’s recommendation to use a seizure alert dog. Her employer also requested documentation of the dog’s training, which she provided. Kathleen takes the dog with her when she teaches a class and where ever else she goes on campus. Kathleen is responsible for taking the dog to a designated area to relieve itself and any associated clean-up

Travis works in a greenhouse. As a wheelchair user, he trained his service dog to perform tasks that would be helpful at work, such as pulling hoses to him, pushing open doors when he is transporting plants, etc. Travis requested that he use his dog at work as a reasonable accommodation and had the dog demonstrate the tasks it could perform. His employer agreed to the accommodation on a trial basis to assess whether the dog would interfere with customers or other workers. After a two week period, Travis’s employer found the service dog caused no interference and granted the reasonable accommodation for as long as needed.

Margo is a graphic designer. Her therapist suggested she use an emotional support animal to relieve anxiety symptoms at home and also at work, if possible. Margo found a cat to be the best fit for her and requested that she be allowed to keep the animal in her office. Her employer requested medical documentation of her anxiety disorder and her doctor’s recommendation that she keep an emotional support animal at work. The employer granted her request but stipulated that Margo bring the cat to her office in a cat carrier and keep the cat in its carrier whenever she was not in her office. The cat must also wear a collar and tags indicating its vaccinations are current.

When Coworkers are Allergic to the Service Animal...

-from Job Accommodation Network: Service Animals in the Workplace, by Linda Batiste, J.D.

  • Allow the employees to work in different areas of the building and/or establish different paths of travel for each employee.
  • Provide one or each of the employees with a private/enclosed workspace.
  • Use a portable air purifier at each workstation.
  • Allow flexible scheduling, so the employees do not work at the same time.
  • Allow one of the employees to work at home or to move to another location.
  • Develop a plan between the employee with allergies and the employee using a service animal, so they are not using common areas such as the break room and restroom at the same time.
  • Allow an employee with allergies to take periodic rest breaks if needed, e.g. to take medication.
  • Ask the employee who uses the service animal if (s)he is able to use other accommodations to replace the functions performed by the service animal for meetings attended by both employees.
  • Arrange for alternatives to in-person communication, such as e-mail, telephone, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing.
  • Ask the employee who uses a service animal if (s)he is willing to use dander care products on the animal regularly.
  • Ask the employee who is allergic to the service animal if (s)he would consider, and would benefit from, wearing an allergen/nuisance mask.
  • Add HEPA filters to the existing ventilation system. Have the work area-including carpets, cubicle walls, and window treatments - cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed on a regular basis.