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Employment Blog

Bring Your Comfort Animal to Work  Everyday?

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on September 29, 2014
Filed under Employment

I am familiar with the national movement of "bring your child to work," but now I am wondering if we will have a national movement to bring your "comfort animal" to work. A recent federal court decision in Hawaii held that an employer may have discriminated against an employee based upon his depression and adjustment disorder disabilities when the employer told the individual he could no longer bring his "comfort animal," a Shih Tzu dog named "Sugar Bear," to work. The employer insisted upon medical documentation establishing the need for the employee to bring the animal to work even though the animal was a licensed service animal that helped the employee control his emotions and reduce his stress.

The federal district court denied the motion for summary judgment filed by the company holding that there was a question of fact whether allowing the employee to bring the dog to work with him was a reasonable accommodation and whether the company had failed to engage in a sufficient interactive process with the employee before disallowing that from happening. The matter will now proceed to a full trial.

When confronted with a request to bring an animal to work, the employer should ask for documentation of the need as well as the medical condition of the employee which establishes that need. The employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee, which means there must be face-to-face discussions with the employee about the request and the appropriateness of the request as well as the availability of other options. This interactive process and discussion is an absolute requirement based upon the many cases that have found discrimination because of a failure to engage in the interactive process.

We can look forward to more requests for "bring your animal to work" today and forever.