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Service Pets: What Are Your Rights?

What are your employee rights when it comes to service animals? Do you currently have a service pet and have questions about where you are allowed to take your animal? Or, are you in the process of seeking a service pet and wondering whether your animal will be permitted in certain spaces? For instance, can you take your service animal onto an airplane or into a restaurant? And what is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? These are all important questions, and depending upon whether you have a service animal or an emotional support animal, the answers to some of these questions can vary.

In short, employees should know that they do have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice provides a helpful FAQ fact sheet that provides some answers to some of the inquiries we mentioned above. An additional publication from the ADA National Network helps to clarify some of these questions.

What is a Service Animal, and How Is It Different From an Emotional Support Animal?

The first question you need to ask concerns the definition of a service animal. Depending upon whether you have a service animal will determine whether you have certain protections under the ADA. The FAQ fact sheet emphasizes that a service animal is defined specifically as “a dog that has been individual trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” The task or tasks that the dog performs, in order to be classified as a service animal under the ADA, “must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

When we say that a service animal must “do work or perform tasks,” what does this mean in practice? The dog must have training that allows it to undertake specific actions designed to help a person who has a disability. The definition of a disability is relatively broad, and service animals can “do work or perform tasks” for persons with psychiatric disabilities (such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a dissociative identity disorder), hearing loss or visual impairment, autism, seizure disorder, and other physical or psychological impairments.

Where Can I Take My Service Animal?

To be clear, the ADA currently recognizes only dogs as service animals. Other animals cannot be service animals under current law. This is extremely important, as service animals—dogs—are distinct from emotional support animals, therapy animals, comfort animals, and companion animals. Only service animals—and not those that fall into the latter categories—are eligible for ADA protection. As a service animal protected under the ADA, you should be eligible to bring your service animal into any space with you, from mass transit spaces to your place of employment to restaurants. The FAQ fact sheet specifically makes clear that service animals must be permitted, generally speaking, into the following places:

  • Restaurants;
  • Workplaces;
  • Hotels; and
  • Transportation vehicles, such as ambulances.

Airplanes are different, though. Persons with disabilities are protected by a different federal law while engaging in air travel, and thus airlines do not have to permit service animals classified as such under the ADA. There are also some other exceptions that you should discuss with a Florida employee rights lawyer.

Unlike service animals, however, these spaces and locations mentioned above do not have to permit emotional support animals. While some states have laws that permit emotional support animals to accompany owners into certain spaces, Florida employees will largely find that only service animals under the ADA currently have these protections.

Taking Time Off to Care for Your Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal

What if your service animal gets sick? Can you rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take unpaid leave to care for your ill dog? Generally speaking, the answer is no. However, individual employers may permit an employee to use leave time to care for an animal under the belief that it is a member of the family.

Contact a Florida Employee Rights Lawyer

Laws concerning employees, service animals, and emotional support animals can be complicated. If you have questions, a Florida employee rights lawyer can help. Contact Scott • Wagner and Associates today for more information.

Resources:

ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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