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Dog Law: Dogs in the workplace
Ask the Expert

Q: At the business where I work, I have pleaded with my boss to allow me to bring my dog, arguing that it would make me a better employee. He’s generally sympathetic to the idea, but his hesitancy in actually approving my request triggers a question: Do workers have any legal right to have companion pets at work if it makes them more productive or mentally healthier?

A: Certainly, if you have an actual disability, federal law is on your side. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that an otherwise qualified employee with disabilities be given meaningful access to the same programs and services that other employees enjoy. In those circumstances where employees describe provision of an animal to be a “reasonable accommodation” for certain impairments, courts apply a balancing test, weighing the benefit of the assistance an animal might provide against the hardship a disruption might impose on others in the same workplace, including customers and co-workers.

Being a question of fact (that is, an issue that can be proven or disproven), a claim that having a dog ameliorates stress or allows one to better perform job duties must be supported by evidence that the dog has particular medically therapeutic qualities. In other words, just as in grade school, you will need a note from your doctor; further, the note must be specific—not just a vague endorsement of the dog’s effectiveness as an overall source of good feelings, but a solid diagnosis that the dog actually solves specific problems that need to be solved in order for you to do your work.

Like your boss, courts may pay lip service to the value of canine companionship but are ultimately quite reluctant to give legal significance to the observation that “dogs make people feel better,” since this point of view has no identifiable stopping point. The worry is that eventually every person who can make some sort of case for it (depression or low self-esteem, for example) would be entitled to bring the dog of their choice to work, without regard to job-related training or utility. Or worse, that there would be no logical reason to eventually deny accommodation for those who liked cats, fish, reptiles or birds better than dogs. For that reason, while one may find many more dogs in offices these days compared to even five years ago, it is doubtful that they will become a standard workplace phenomenon anytime soon. Another factor underlying courts’ anxiety is the odd (and quite modern) perception that overall, animals tend to subtract from human productivity much more than they contribute to it.

If you are not disabled, the only other two likely ways to legally compel your boss to accept your dog’s daily attendance would be either a) a claim of discrimination based on your membership in a legally protected category, or b) proof that your written employment contract provides for it in some manner. Both present obstacles, the former because dog ownership is not yet a recognized state or federal constitutional right, and the latter because you most likely do not work for Enlightened Dog Owners of America, Inc., Work and Woof United or any of the similar imaginary companies that one might envision during a lunchbreak daydream.

Until you do, your best bet is to check out the Pet Sitters International website, petsit.com, particularly their “Take Your Dog to Work Day” Action Pack. That way, you can lay the groundwork with your boss for at least one dog-accompanied work day next year. 


This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 48: May/Jun 2008

Geordie Duckler, JD, PhD, heads the Animal Law Practice, a unique private law practice in Portland, Ore., whose main focus is on the resolution, litigation and trial of animal-related disputes.


Photograph courtesy REPLACEMENTS, LTD.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | September 8 2010 |

Follow Red Dog through a typical day at work when he volunteers at the Dartmouth College Greenhouse as a greeter.

See the video proof here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWQdczb3Bs0

Submitted by Anonymous | February 11 2012 |

Two other things to consider: co-workers with allergies and whether your workplace has a lease agreement that bars pets on the property. My last employer wouldn't allow dogs on bring your dog to work day for both reasons, and as much as I love dogs, those reasons are pretty valid.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 8 2012 |

I have a service dog, and there was a staff member who had "allergies", she also disklikes any animals. JAN,(Job Access Network) is a publication put out for employers by the Department of Justice. The allergy issue is addressed by having the employees work together in close circumstances as well as the Allergic Employee using a dust mask. Service dogs are consider Durable Medical Equipment and as such, you can not deny access as you would not deny a wheelchair. Thank God for Dog!

Submitted by Deborah | June 3 2013 |

Those reasons are NOT vaild. I wish people without any clue to how the law applies to SD would just be quiet. Spreading misinformation makes others afraid to stand up for their rights.

Submitted by Jennifer | November 14 2013 |

I agree with you, Deborah, but I think that the original poster didn't want to bring in his service dog but rather his pet. There is a difference. I work in transit (bus) and so many passengers will bring on their dog and say that it is a service animal. (when it's clearly not and has a rope for a leash) Because of the ADA laws we can't ask them to prove it. If they say it's a service dog then it's a service dog. It frustrates me when people abuse that and will actually bring an untrained and sometimes vicous dog on the bus under the claim that it's a service animal. It makes it harder for those people who legitimately need their service animal.

Submitted by Scared | April 8 2014 |

I am scared to death of dogs and my employer allows his big dog to roam the building, lick off the water cooler we have, go through the garbage where all employees have to put their garbage pails on their desk ( which is nasty). I have spoke to human resources, sent a email to the director and all and the dog is still allowed to roam.They take the dog and put it in a room when I come but I have to call to let them know when Im going in early and no one else have to do that. When I do go in they put the dog in a room but I am scared to go to the bathroom because I don't know if the dog is roaming around. It's crazy and I don't know what to do.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 9 2013 |

Dear Geordie,

Your article somewhat brought to my mind a recent news article entitled
Boston Marathon Bombing Victims Offered Free Service Dogs Through Nonprofit NEADS/Dogs For Deaf And Disabled Americans:

"PRINCETON, Mass., May 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans announced this week that victims of the Boston marathon bombing who have sustained a physical disability are being offered assistance dogs through the creation of a new fund. NEADS is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that places assistance dogs nationwide.

The funds raised will be restricted to cover the costs involved with supplying assistance dogs to the victims of the Boston marathon bombings should they decide, in the future, that an assistance dog will bring them renewed independence and connection. "For many years now, our office has partnered with NEADS by hosting young service dogs in training," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley . "We are grateful to those donors who have agreed to fund service dogs for victims of the marathon bombings and look forward to working with NEADS to identify appropriate homes for these incredible animals."

NEADS is working in collaboration with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Victim Assistance Program and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance to distribute information and identify potential recipients of assistance dogs. Going forward, the fund will be opened to include all victims of violent crime in Massachusetts who have sustained a physical disability and who feel that they would benefit from an assistance dog.

Gerry DeRoche , Chief Executive Officer of NEADS said, "The value and impact that our service dogs provide to those in need is immeasurable. We are happy to offer our help, and hope that by establishing this fund, marathon bombing victims receive the independence, comfort and companionship our dogs provide."

Submitted by julia | July 29 2014 |

My husband works for a Canadian long haul trucking company who do not allow dogs on the trucks . I have registry the dog on National service animal registry .Can the company refuse him from taking the dog with him now?

Submitted by Ellen Cline | August 7 2014 |

A new article covers the Job Accommodation Network webinar on this topic presented Aug 5 2014 for International Assistance Dog Week.

Service Dogs in the Workplace: How to Make It Work

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