March 8, 2017
Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against freight company CRST Expedited Inc. on behalf of a truck driver trainee who is a veteran. According to the Commission, the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to hire the trainee because he uses an emotional support dog to manage post-traumatic stress disorder. The EEOC also claims the employer failed to discuss other potential job accommodations with the trainee and retaliated against him by dismissing him from a new driver orientation program for requesting help with his PTSD.
The company is expected to respond to these allegations in due course.
Questions about the use of service animals at work are coming up more frequently. The EEOC has issued guidance that addresses using service animals as a reasonable accommodation in the food service industry.
And last December the agency issued a publication titled “Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights”, which brought more attention to accommodating mental health issues in the workplace. In introducing that publication, the EEOC stated that “During fiscal year 2016, preliminary data shows that EEOC resolved almost 5,000 charges of discrimination based on mental health conditions, obtaining approximately $20 million for individuals with mental health conditions who were unlawfully denied employment and reasonable accommodations.”
Generally, employers should treat a worker’s request to use a service animal for assistance with a disability as it would any other accommodation request under the ADA. That means examining the request in the context of, among other factors, the employer’s workplace and the employee’s disability and job duties. Employers do not have to allow an applicant or employee with a disability to use a service animal at work if doing so would cause an “undue hardship.”
The bottom line is that in some workplace settings and jobs, allowing use of a service animal to accommodate a worker’s mental health condition may be appropriate, while in others it may not be.
Our Insights are published as a service to clients and friends. They are intended to be informational and do not constitute legal advice regarding any specific situation.