Most people may be aware of the two major legal rights a person with an emotional support animal is entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ability to fly with your animal free of charge due to the Air Carrier Access Act and the right to live with your pet because of the Fair Housing Amendments Act. However, there is another major benefit to having that all important emotional support animal letter, and that is your rights when it comes to bringing your ESA pet to your place of employment.
In this article we’re going to explore your rights as an ESA letter holder when it comes to employment and provide a few tips on what you should and shouldn’t do.
ESAs and the Law
So what is the law when it comes to emotional support animals and employment?
In the same way that at a landlord must provide reasonable accommodation for an ESA pet to a person that has been diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is similarly expected to provide that same reasonable accommodation for employees. This is because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the same employment rules protected by the ADA, which lays out that it is illegal for a business or individual to discriminate against you if you have been diagnosed with a form of mental or emotional disability.
While the rules are more clear cut for those who have a service animal and a physical disability, when it comes to emotional support animals the rules are a little less clear. We don’t recommend that you just show up at your office with an ESA pet and expect to work as normal. You’ll need to speak directly to your boss, and depending on the size of your company, potentially someone from the HR department.
Your company is completely within its legal rights to request a letter that documents that you have been prescribed with an emotional or mental disability in order to establish how the ESA pet is used to treat this disability. This is where that all important emotional support animal letter comes into play.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter
You can get an ESA letter from a registered mental health professional, typically a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. This letter will state that they have treated you and have diagnosed you with a specific mental or emotional disorder. It will also state that the use of an emotional support animal (or therapy animal) is the prescribed form (or one of the prescribed forms) of treatment for your disability. This letter will be valid for a year from the date it is signed by the mental health professional and it is the only evidence you will need to take into your workplace in order to be able to work with your pet.
Brining Your ESA to Work
While it is not legal for them to ask, your employer may be concerned that your emotional support animal will prevent you from performing key aspects of your role. In our experience it is better to be proactive when it comes to this. Explain that your ESA pet will actually help you to bolster your productivity and that you’ll be able to perform tasks just as quickly and effectively.
In order to keep everyone happy you should consider offering to prove this by bringing your ESA pet into your workplace for a trial period of a week. Once that is over you can talk to your boss and assess the situation afterwards. It’s important that having an emotional support animal in your office does not distract you or other employees from completing the tasks that are assigned to them.
Unlike service animals, who require years of extensive and exhaustive training, an emotional support animal will be expected to follow three very simple rules in order to be fit to stay in a workplace environment:
- They must be toilet trained (this kind of goes without saying).
- They must be able to behave in a small or confined space and not be excessively loud or hyper.
- They can in no way show signs of violence or threatening behavior.
If your ESA pet violates any of these rules, your employer has the right to ban them from the workplace without violating your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What’s most important is that you respect your colleagues and in a lot of ways, use common sense. If someone has a severe allergy to dog or cat hair, then you shouldn’t bring and ESA dog or cat into the office. Likewise, if you work in a dangerous workspace, like a factory with a lot of moving parts where your pet could have an accident or cause an accident, then you should not bring them to work with you.
The most important thing is that your ESA pet is there to comfort and help treat you! So make sure to do your homework and consider all of your options first.