The New Elephant in the Room
By: Mike Ward and Jonathan Gonzalez
The recent public discourse (and comedy) surrounding odd uses of animals for emotional support including squirrels and alligators, makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that many people suffering from diagnosed emotional or mental disabilities rely daily on animals of all types for emotional support. Registrations of emotional support animals have risen exponentially over the past decade, which has resulted in a need for many, including employers, to confront those who claim to need animals for support. Employers in Virginia may have legal justification for excluding disruptive animals from the workplace, but they should be aware of the potential compliance pitfalls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) before making quick decisions about animals brought by employees.
Employee’s Use of Emotional Support Animals and Compliance with the ADA
Under the ADA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person in employment on the basis of the employee’s actual, documented, or perceived disability. This bar on disability discrimination extends to hiring, firing, promotion, pay, harassment, and other significant employment decisions. While the ADA’s main purpose is to protect the rights of the disabled in the workplace, the law is conscious of the needs of employers to maintain safe and effective workplaces. The ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations for an