A reasonable accommodation includes any appropriate measure that would allow an employee with a disability to perform the essential job functions. California regulations include permitting job applicants or employees to bring emotional support animals to the worksite as a specific example of a possible reasonable accommodation. (California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Division 4.1, Subchapter 2, Article 9, Section 11065(p)(2)(B))
Governed by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, job applicants and employees are protected from workplace discrimination due to a mental or physical disorder that is disabling, potentially disabling, or perceived to be either.
The act requires employers to work with employees to accommodate their disabilities in reasonable ways, including making accommodations for employees with emotional support animals; for instance, waiving the employer’s usual rules about not bringing dogs to work.
This law applies to employers with five or more employees.
California employers can require the following from “workplace” emotional support animals:
- free from offensive odors.
- displays habits appropriate to the workplace (potty-trained).
- do not endanger the safety or health of others.
Proof of Disability
Individuals with a documented “disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal must:
- be limited in the major life activity of working.
- limited in performing the requirements of a single, particular job.
The emotional support animal letter must state that the employee has a disability and explaining why the employee requires the presence of the animal in the workplace (e.g., why the animal is necessary as an accommodation to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job).
Under US law, to be substantially limited in the major life activity of working, an individual must be significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a broad range of jobs in various classes or a class of employment. The inability to perform a single, particular job does not mean the employee has a substantial limitation.
In the end, California law protects a more significant number of workers who need to bring their emotional support animal to the workplace than federal law does. California workplace protections also apply to job applicants and employees with a “special education” disability.
The employer may challenge whether the emotional support animal meets the standards during the first two weeks that the animal is in the workplace based on objective evidence of offensive or disruptive behavior. An employer may also require annual recertification of the continued need for the animal.
Here are a few tips for employers analyzing a request for a workplace assistance animal:
- Is the accommodation request accompanied by requisite mental / medical information?
- Is it reasonable?
- Will it effectively enable the employee to perform their job?
- Will it cause an undue hardship?
Employers should engage in the interactive process with the disabled employee to discuss whether the request for an assistive animal is reasonable. The accommodations analysis should address three issues:
- Reasonableness: Is the requested accommodation reasonable?
- Effectiveness: Is the request effective? Will this requested accommodation effectively allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job?
- Undue Hardship: Does the request pose an undue hardship? With regards to assistive animals, this analysis requires that employers weigh issues such as whether the animal will be disruptive to the workplace.
Beware Bogus Certificates
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing has taken the position that an Internet certification demonstrating a need for a support animal is not a sufficient “medical certification” for interactive process purposes. Therefore, an employee should be prepared to present a note from his or her medical provider which documents the employee’s restrictions and need for accommodation in the same way he or she would for any other accommodation requests. It is not necessary for the note to disclose details about the employee’s underlying medical issues, but should confirm the existence of a disability or medical condition and restrictions the employee has as a result of the condition. For example, a note might indicate that the employee suffers from severe anxiety, which causes the employee difficulty in certain social settings and that the support animal provides the employee relief from that anxiety. The note need not indicate any underlying reasons for the employee’s anxiety.
An Unreasonable Accommodation
Employers can refuse the reasonable accommodation request if it places undue hardships, such as:
- the cost and nature of the accommodation.
- the financial resources, size, and number of employees.
- type of operations.
- the impact of the accommodation.