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Does reasonable accommodation include service animals?

People get hurt, physically and emotionally. Sometimes, these injuries are severe enough to qualify as a disability by medical and legal standards.

When you return to work after suffering an injury, you may need some adjustment in your duties. Perhaps you cannot live the same way without assistance. For psychological injuries and disabilities, service animals are becoming an acceptable form of ongoing treatment. Does your employer have to allow you to bring a service animal to work, or could you lose your job?

Federal and state guidelines

Federal laws dictate how companies need to handle employees with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. Among other things, it protects people from losing their positions due to a physical or mental condition that does not impact job performance. For instance, a person who answers phones can do so from a wheelchair just as effectively.

Reasonable accommodations

For disabled individuals, employers must provide reasonable accommodations that allow employees to continue working. This goes for physical and mental conditions that classify as disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in an employee’s work environment or job function that helps the employee continue to perform the job with a qualified disability. Employers should try everything possible to keep the employee on staff and comfortable unless the necessary changes are drastic and would cause undue hardship to the employer.

Service animals in the workplace

Physically disabled people use service animals to help them get around more independently. In recent years, doctors started recommending service animals to aid people with psychological and emotional issues. If an employee has a qualified disability, a service animal counts as a reasonable accommodation. The animal must meet specific standards and have a certification designating it as a service animal. Employers can ask for supporting documentation about the type of functions the animal performs before agreeing that it is a reasonable accommodation.

Bringing a service animal to the job may not always work for some positions. However, if you and your physician believe a service animal can help you, an employer may have to allow it under the ADA and California law.

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