Support Animals Can Be A Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
Support Animals can be considered a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under certain conditions. The case of Branson teaches that a dog could be an accommodation not only for blind employees but also paraplegic employees.
In Branson v. West, an Illinois case, Dr. Branson, a physician, brought and won a failure to reasonably accommodate claim against her employer Lakeside VA Hospital for denying her use of a service dog to assist her with her workplace duties after she sustained injuries that left her with a permanent spinal injury causing her to make use of a manual wheelchair. The manual wheelchair was much more desirable to Dr. Branson than an electric wheelchair because of the maneuverability and ease of transport. However, the manual wheelchair caused her to experience much stress on her shoulders, arms, and hands and fatigue.
Branson’s doctor supported her request for reasonable accommodation by stating that “The use of the service dog to assist Dr. Branson in propelling her wheelchair, opening/closing doors and holding them open, and retrieving items in difficult to reach location[s] are examples of ways to reduce stress on her arms. No specific accommodations or changes to her job duties are required.”
After much back and forth between the hospital, Branson, and her doctors, the hospital refused to allow her to use a service dog in the workplace. The Court ruled in Branson that the hospital did not reasonably accommodate Dr. Branson.
One question that has yet to be answered is how to deal with service dogs in the workplace when another employee has an allergy to the dog. Because an allergy can be a disability under the ADA, service dogs create a rare circumstance where an employer may have competing disabilities to accommodate. In such situations, employers are advised to reasonably accommodate both employees as much as possible.