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Employers cannot ban service animals in workplace

Service animals – typically trained dogs – that help people with physical disabilities are a more common sight in public places such as restaurants and retail stores. But they are occasionally seen in workplaces, too.

That makes us wonder: Can a person bring a service dog into the workplace without fear of discrimination?

Protected against discrimination

In Pennsylvania, only people who require a service animal to help overcome a disability can bring one into the workplace, and they are already protected against discrimination.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) declares it is illegal and discriminatory for an employer to deny a disabled employee to bring a service animal on the premises.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also is supportive. Under the ADA, the employer has the right to require the service animal be trained for the workplace environment in order to perform its tasks. The employer also can request documentation that a specific accommodation is necessary due to an employee’s disability.

What qualifies as a service animal?

While the common term is “service animal,” Pennsylvania uses the phrase “guide or support animal.” Service animals are usually trained dogs that help people with physical disabilities perform necessary day-to-day tasks. They are not considered pets.

Service animals may assist people who may be immobile, have impaired vision or hearing, experience seizures, or have diabetes, autism or Alzheimer’s disease. The animals are usually identified with a vest or patch, and must remain under control by the handler at all times.

Tasks performed by service dogs

Tasks that service dogs handle include:

  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Fetching
  • Opening doors
  • Alerting owners to sounds such as a doorbell or phone ringing
  • Turning light switches on and off
  • Guiding the visually impaired
  • Providing balance
  • Reminding an owner when to take medication

Circumstances when service animals are not allowed

The behavior of the service dog is vital, too. Most of these dogs are mild-mannered and well-trained, but others may not be.

State and federal law declares that if an animal displays threatening behavior to the health and safety of others, it may be barred from a workplace. This may include viciousness or not being house-trained. But if the animal is no longer welcomed, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations to the person who relied on it.

In addition, the ADA and Pennsylvania guidelines specify that employers and business owners do not have to accommodate people without disabilities who are training service animals.

Finally, allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access to people using support animals.

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Sean A. Casey Attorney at Law
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First and Market Building
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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