California's newest regulations pertaining to the rights
of the disabled in the workplace require employers to allow "assistive animals"
in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation to certain disabled
employees. See CCR 7293.6 & 72940(k).
While service dogs for the visually and hearing impaired have become a more
common sight in California's workplaces, the regulations specifically permit
other animals that provide "emotional or other support to a person with a
An employer need not play "possum" when confronted with
an employee's request to bring an assistive animal to the office. First,
an employer may require the employee to provide medical certification from the
employee's health care provider (which, broadly defined, now includes
therapists, acupuncturists, dentists, physicians, clinical social workers,
nurse practitioners, midwives, chiropractors, optometrists, psychologists, and
podiatrists) certifying that the employee has a disability and that explains
why the assistive animal provides an accommodation.
Still got your goat? An employer may also require a
certain level of training, namely that the assistive animal
But an employer must act jackrabbit quick, because it is
only within the first two weeks that the assistive animal is reporting to the
workplace that an employer is expressly permitted to challenge the animal,
based on objective evidence of offensive or disruptive behavior.
(It is not clear what happens if an animal becomes violent, dangerous or its
toilet training breaks down after the first two weeks). Thereafter,
annually, the employer may (and should) require annual recertification of the
employee's continued need for the support animal.
As assistive animals become more common in the workplace,
employers will increasingly be confronted by the potential conflict and
disruptions that service animals will provide. Not only the distraction
from the getting the job done, but other employees' claims of allergy and other
reactions to the animals which may then require additional
accommodations. It is not clear how the courts will react to these cases
as there is no precedent.
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