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Can My New Jersey Employer Discriminate Against Me if I Require the Assistance of a Service Animal?

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.

Because service animals’ human companions, by definition, have recognized disabilities, those people’s employers cannot discriminate against those employees’ disabilities. The analysis for whether or not an employer has committed illegal discrimination in this context is the same as other forms of disability discrimination on the job. The employer must make a reasonable accommodation of the employee’s disability. The employer is not, however, required to accommodate if the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. So, if you are qualified to do your job with or without an accommodation, and having your service dog at work would not impose some form of excessive hardship on your employer, then the employer must accommodate your service animal.

Litigation related to a dispute like this would go forward like other workplace disability discrimination cases. You would be required to prove, among other things, that you were a member of protected class and that your employer engaged in illegal discrimination by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. If you cleared the required hurdles, then the burden of proof would fall upon the employer to show that accommodating the animal would create an undue hardship.

These are the rules for service animals. Neither federal nor New Jersey discrimination laws demand the same level of accommodation for emotional support animals as for service animals.

Whether or not your disability requires the aid of a service animal, your job is probably very important to you, and your employer bears a legal responsibility to provide you with a reasonable accommodation for your disability. If your employer failed to accommodate you reasonably or took adverse action against you due to your disability, you may be entitled to a judgment and to compensation. The skilled New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have spent countless hours working to help our clients with disabilities get the fair outcomes they deserve. Reach us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

New Jersey Disability Discrimination Law and Workers With Sleep Apnea, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 6, 2018

What are My Employer’s Obligations to Provide an Accommodation of My Workplace Disability in New Jersey?, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, June 11, 2018


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