Every Service Dog Gets Two Bites: Reasonable Access and Reasonable Accommodation Obligations Under the ADA

By: Philip A. Hinson

As American workers continue returning to the office and facilities across the country continue to reopen following pandemic-induced closures, service and support animals are becoming increasingly present in our workplaces. These animals, particularly dogs, help people with disabilities by performing tasks such as guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, assisting with movement, notifying people of physiological changes like elevated blood pressure or lowered blood sugar, and providing comfort to people with psychiatric conditions. The presence of these animals in the workplace presents employers and business owners with distinctly different obligations under Titles I and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Service Animals in Places of Public Accommodation

Title III addresses accommodation of persons with disabilities in public and commercial facilities, and specifically requires places of public accommodation to allow service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to enter. This Title narrowly defines a “service animal” as a dog (or miniature horse) that has been individually trained “to do or perform tasks” for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. However, emotional support animals generally do not qualify as service animals under Title III when these animals only provide comfort and are not sufficiently trained to perform a specific job or task.

As a point of caution, emotional support animals may constitute service animals under other federal or state laws including the Fair Housing Act. Under Title III of the ADA, business owners can only ask individuals with disabilities who are accompanied by a service dog (1) if the dog is a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. As a general rule, Title III mandates that business owners allow service animals in all areas where the public is allowed.

Service Animals in Employment

Title I of the ADA specifically addresses disabilities in the context of employment, but Title I does not define or address service animals. Thus, Title I does not require an employer to allow the presence of a service animal to the same extent Title III places requirements on business owners. Instead, employee requests for service animals, and even for emotional support animals, should generally be treated as disability accommodation requests. When confronted with a disabled employee’s request to introduce a service or support animal into the workplace, employers should engage in the interactive process to evaluate whether the animal would be a reasonable accommodation necessary to permit the employee to perform the essential functions of their position, or whether alternative solutions are available.

When evaluating an animal-related accommodation request, employers should generally resist the urge to conclude that an animal is not appropriate in the workplace because of speculative issues like assumed impacts on co-workers that are ill-informed by stereotypical or antiquated beliefs. Instead, employers should engage with the employee who made the request and focus on gaining an understanding of whether the employee’s disabling conditions and the service animal’s functions are related, whether the service animal will improve the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job, and whether the animal has sufficient training to avoid being disruptive in the workplace.


Service and support animals present employers and business owners with complex obligations and duties under the ADA and related laws. Navigating these obligations and duties requires an open mind and a willingness to compassionately evaluate and balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of people with disabilities.

For more information on this topic, contact the author of this post or visit our Labor & Employment Practice page to find an attorney in your area. You can also subscribe to this blog to receive email alerts when new posts go up.

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