Recently, the issue of “emotional support animals” has been in the news a lot. In August, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported on Southwest Airlines’ decision to limit such animals on its flights, allowing only cats and dogs. This came after another airline made news by refusing to allow a woman to board a flight in Newark with her large emotional support peacock earlier this year. While the famous emotional support peacock launched many social media memes, the assistance many animals provide people with disabilities is absolutely no laughing matter, and neither is discrimination against workers with disabilities who require the aid of service animals. So, you may wonder, what are your workplace rights in New Jersey when it comes to your animal that provides you aid? For in-depth answers to these and other questions that are specific to your situation, be sure to reach out a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney for the assistance you need.
While the issue of discrimination against people who have animals that render aid may come up most frequently with regard to housing or public accommodations, it can also arise in your job. To better understand your rights, it is important to make a key distinction, which is between service animals and support animals. A service animal is, according to federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to “do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” The range of work and/or tasks a service animal might do include guiding a blind person, being a “hearing” dog for a deaf person, pulling a wheelchair, calming someone with PTSD, protecting someone having a seizure or reminding a person with a mental disorder to take his/her prescriptions. If you have a recognized disability and an animal can perform a task that lessens the symptoms or problems related to your disability, then that dog or miniature horse can qualify as a service animal.
Support animals, on the other hand, are different. The animals’ human companion does not have to have a recognized disability and the animal need not have gone through any specific training to perform any specific task or work.