by Chad Taylor
Q: One of my employees has a service animal. What am I required to do?
A: Unlike Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires service animals to be allowed in all areas of public access, Title I, which regulates employment, only requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. Therefore, an employee with a disability does not have an automatic right to have his or her service animal in the workplace. As with all requests for a reasonable accommodation, an interactive process should be undertaken with the employee to determine which accommodations, if any, would be appropriate and not cause undue hardship. In 2011, the Department of Justice revised the ADA’s to provide a more narrow definition of “service animal,” limiting definition to dogs that have been specifically trained to assist a person in some way. When an employee asks to use a service animal in the workplace, you have the right to request documentation of his or her need for the service animal just like other accommodations. Also, you may ask him or her to document or demonstrate that the service animal is trained to help with medical needs and that the animal will not disrupt the workplace.
Q: When do I have to ensure Title I ADA compliance?
A: Not every company falls under the “covered entities” label of Title I. To fall under the ADA guidelines, an employer must have 15 or more employees, or must be one of the following: an employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee. Additionally, all state and local government employers must be ADA compliant as well.
Q: An employee has made an ADA request for reasonable accommodation for a disability. Can I ask for documentation of the disability in question?
A: Yes. When the disability and/or the need for accommodation is not obvious, the employer may ask the individual for reasonable documentation about his or her disability and functional limitations. The employer is entitled to know that the individual has a covered disability for which he or she needs a reasonable accommodation.
Reasonable documentation means that the employer may require only the documentation that is needed to establish that a person has an ADA disability, and that the disability necessitates a reasonable accommodation. Thus, an employer, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation, cannot ask for documentation that is unrelated to determining the existence of a disability and the necessity for an accommodation. This means that in most situations an employer cannot request a person’s complete medical records because they are likely to contain information unrelated to the disability at issue and the need for accommodation. If an individual has more than one disability, an employer can request information pertaining only to the disability that requires a reasonable accommodation.
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