Do My Employees Have a Right to Bring Their Animal to Work?

In a previous blog I told you the rules on using paid sick leave to care for our furry family members (click here for link), but I did not address what to do if your employee insists on bringing their animal to work. First, whether or not an employee has a right to bring their animal to work will depend on whether the employee is a person with a disability under California law. Second, employees do not have a fundamental right to bring pets to work, but assistive animals (which includes both trained service dogs and comfort or emotional support animals) may have to be allowed as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a physical or mental disability unless it would pose either an undue hardship or direct threat to the workplace.

Ok, so employer’s don’t have to allow animals at work for everyone – only for employees with disabilities, and only if the animal provides assistance that will support the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of their job – but how is an employer to know the difference between a pet and an assistive animal as a reasonable accommodation (i.e. a “want” vs. a “need”)? You cannot ask the employee what the disability is, but if the disability and level of assistance from the animal is not obvious, you can ask the following questions:

  1. Do you require the animal as an accommodation because of a disability?
  2. Do you need assistance from the animal to successfully perform the essential functions of your job?
  3. Can you provide certification from a healthcare provider that confirms your need for reasonable accommodation due to a disability? (Note, a healthcare provider does not have to be a doctor: clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, and therapists are just some examples of qualified healthcare providers.)

If the answer is “yes” to all of the above, you might suggest that the animal be allowed to accompany the employee on a trial basis, initially to determine that the accommodation is reasonable and is working for all concerned. Employers should also inform their employee that the following rules will apply to the assistive animal while in the workplace:

  • The animal must be kept free from offensive odors and display habits appropriate to the work environment (e.g. being potty-trained).
  • The animal cannot not engage in behavior that endangers the health or safety of the individual with a disability or others in the workplace.
  • The animal must actually assist or enhance (and not hinder) the employee’s ability to successfully perform the essential functions of their job.

When an animal meets the above criteria for an “assistive animal,” it’s no longer considered just a “pet” under California law. By following this approach, your employees will know you’ve done your homework and be less inclined to attempt to bend the rules so they can bring their pets to work.