Support Animals in the Workplace


Jerry Howe

By Molly Wood, SPHR. SDEA HR Consultant

According to the online news service “The Guardian” more than 65,000 emotional support animals (ESA’s) were registered between 1995 and 2015, and since 2015 that number has increased by 200%. This tremendous increase in registered ESA’s makes the likelihood that one of your employees will request to bring a pet to work much higher, but there are measures that employers can take to avoid the chaos of an office full or animals.

California recognizes ESA’s as a type of reasonable accommodation. Of course, it must be reasonable. If an employee asks to bring an ESA to work as an accommodation, the employer has the right to require medical certification. This would be documentation from the employee’s health care provider of the need for the animal. The health care provider does not need to be a medical doctor, a licensed therapist will suffice. The employer can also require that the employee confirm that the animal will behave appropriately in the workplace (potty trained, doesn’t growl at people, doesn’t run amok around the office). 

The employer can also require that the ESA is free from offensive odors and does not engage in behavior that endangers anyone in the workplace. If a co-worker has allergies to the ESA, that may be grounds to deny the ESA in the office, but if there is the ability to keep the animal away from the allergic party, that may be considered a reasonable accommodation.

As with so many employee relations issues, it is important to presume that your employees are coming from a case of genuine need. Don’t make assumptions that bringing a dog (or pig, or lizard) to the office will have disastrous consequences unless it happens. It may be that the ESA brings some added joy to the workplace for all employees, and who doesn’t like joy?

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