The Clash Between Service Animals and Allergies in the Workplace

The presence of a service animal in the workplace raises many issues for an employer who is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This article focuses on the duty of an employer when an employee is allergic to the dog dander brought into the workplace by a service animal accompanying another employee.

Allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA because they can seriously limit one or more major life activities, such as breathing, eating, or working.  The ADA can help to create a work environment where an employee can avoid his/her allergy triggers by requiring the employer to implement reasonable accommodations for the employee. 

Under the ADA, things become complicated when another employee desires to bring a service dog into the work environment and the presence of a service dog is the trigger for another employee’s allergies.  While the ADA permits an employer to exclude a service animal that is a direct threat to others or who is not under the control of their owner,  generally, another employee’s allergies to the service animal do not constitute a direct threat to others.

The bottom line is that the employer must attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation for both the employee with allergies and the employee with the service animal.  Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. 

In this situation, an accommodation may include one of more of the following:

  • Allow the employees to work in different areas of the building
  • Allow flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time
  • Allow one of the employees to work from home or move to another location
  • Establish different paths of travel for each employee
  • Develop a plan between the employees so they are not using common areas – such as the break room and restroom – at the same time
  • Provide one or each of the employees with a private/enclosed workspace
  • Allow the employee with allergies to take periodic rest breaks if needed, e.g., to take medication
  • Ask the employee who uses the service animal if (s)he is able to temporarily use other accommodations to replace the functions performed by the service animal for meetings attended by both employees
  • Arrange for alternatives to in-person communication, such as e-mail, telephone, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing
  • Ask the employee who uses a service animal if (s)he is willing to use dander care products on the animal regularly
  • Utilize air purifying technology such as HEPA filters or portable air purifiers
  • Have the work area – including carpets, cubicle walls, and window treatments – cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed regularly
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    Orly R. Rumberg

    Orly Rumberg's health care law practice provides essential support to health care providers including physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, health systems, and long-term care clients with respect to corporate and regulatory aspects of health care delivery.

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