Service Dogs in the Workplace

a dog with sunglasses on it's head laying on the ground

Have you ever seen a dog in a department store, an airplane, or even a grocery store and wonder what makes a dog a Service Animal? You are not alone. Often times clients and friends come to TPPS asking the question – do I have to allow dogs in my place of business?  

Let us first start by saying TPPS is a Dog Friendly work environment. Why? First and foremost, we love dogs, but we also have a great landlord who allows dogs in our office space, we do work that allows dogs to be on site without creating any safety hazards for the dogs or our employees, and we don’t have any employees with dog allergies. As you might be picking up, there are many considerations to allowing dogs (or other pets) in the workplace. We could write a novel on this topic, but today we focus on Service Animals. 

There are three categories of animals that fall in the “service” umbrella: 

1. Service Animals: these are professionally trained animals who have been trained to perform specific duties for their disabled owner. We repeat, an animal that has been provided with extensive training to provide assistance for their disabled owner. It is not a dog who provides companionship or emotional support. Under the ADA, a bona fide Service Animal is permitted in nearly all public places. 

2. Therapy Dogs: these are dogs that may or may not be professionally trained and are licensed and insured to provide affection and comfort to people in places like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Therapy dogs do not have public access rights under the ADA. 

3. Emotional Support Animals: these are animals who may, or may not, be registered with an entity that is in the business of providing certifications to individual who wish to have their animals designated as such. They provide emotional support and comfort to their owners. Emotional Support Animals are not recognized by the ADA and also do not have full public access rights under the ADA. 

Many individuals obtain an emotional support certification in an effort to take their pet with them to places that they may not otherwise be permitted. We see a lot of confusion in this area. As stated above the ADA does not recognize Emotional Support or Therapy Animals, and therefore not all businesses are required to allow animals in their place of business. So, what should you do if you have a customer bring their pet into your business? First, you are not permitted to ask anyone what their disability is. You can however ask “is the animal a Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal?” If a Service Animal, you can then ask, “what is the animal trained to perform for you?” Again, you cannot ask what the disability is, but you are entitled to know if the animal is in fact a Service Animal and what they will be doing for the owner. 

If the answer is that the dog is an Emotional Support Animal, then you may have the right to deny entry of the animal in your business. There are some exceptions (housing and transportation), and state and local laws may vary, so you should consult with legal or your local governing body before denying access. 

At this point, some of you may be saying….well, can’t there be a Service Animal who provides emotional support. The answer is YES! But again, these are Service Animals who have completed extensive training to be able to provide support such as detecting an on-coming panic or anxiety attack. We all know having your dog nearby can provide comfort, support and love, but that’s just what they do by nature – a Service Animal providing emotional support has been trained to identify the signs of the impeding panic attack, or the settling in of social anxiety. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a charity gala for Shelter to Solider (check them out here), and heard first hand from a professional trainer what a dog goes through to become a Service Animal to support our veterans with PTSD. It is incredible and there is a huge distinction between every day emotional support and what these Service Animals do! 

In the event your employee requests to bring either an Emotional Support or Service Animal to the workplace, you should notify Human Resources so that all appropriate steps can be taken to evaluate the request. 

Our goal is that you take away an understanding of the difference between Service and Emotional Support Animals, and then make a decision about what makes sense for your organization, not to advocate for or against allowing Emotional Support Animals in your business. For the sake of those who rely on true Service Animals, it’s imperative that we do our duty to keep the lines bright and know the difference between these working dogs and the lucky dogs who’s owners want to bring them everywhere. 

Have more questions about animals in the workplace? Just Ask Us