Emotional support animals can help people who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health issues live better lives. With as much time as people spend in the workplace and as much psychological stress as our jobs can create, you may wonder: what are the rules for bringing emotional support animals to work? Must an employer accommodate emotional support animals in the same capacity as traditional service animals like seeing-eye dogs?
An Employer’s Rights and Responsibilities
New Jersey employers are required to accommodate workers with disabilities under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). Under the ADA, it is also illegal for an employer to discriminate against you for a physical, mental, or emotional disability. What these rules mean in the workplace is that a company must make “reasonable accommodations” in its work environment or company policies to help someone with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or otherwise enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
On the other hand, an employer does not have to make changes or allow accommodations that would cause "undue hardship” to the company or its workers—ones that would be significantly financially burdensome, unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or which would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. An employer isn’t required to grant a requesting employee the accommodation of his or her choosing; the parties are supposed to engage in an interactive process to come to a mutually agreeable solution. Having an emotional support animal in the workplace might be a reasonable accommodation in some circumstances, but this would be something that an employee would have to request and discuss with an employer.
Service Animals vs. Support Animals
The ADA defines a service dog as one that is trained to perform a specific task or action for a person with a disability. These tasks can be physical or sensory actions (like seeing-eye dogs or animals that assist an owner in a wheelchair with mobility) or they can be emotional or psychological (like reminding an owner to take medications or calming a PTSD sufferer). The ADA protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to bring service dogs into public places, and the NJLAD prohibits denying an “otherwise qualified person with a disability the opportunity to obtain or maintain employment, or to advance in position in his job, solely because such person is a person with a disability or because such person is accompanied by a service or guide dog.” An employer, like any other business, can exclude a service animal from the workplace if it is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, if it’s not housebroken, or if due to the nature of the workplace it would pose a hazard or danger (e.g., a sterile lab environment, construction site, operating room, etc.).
Although there is no specific mandatory training program, testing, or license required to qualify an animal as a service dog, these animals are trained to perform identifiable actions to help their owners overcome their physical or psychological limitations. They are also typically well trained in general (e.g., to stay calm, stay near the owner, sit in one place, relieve themselves outdoors, etc.).
Rather than being trained to perform certain tasks or actions, emotional support animals help with an owner’s general mental health and wellbeing. There is no provision in the law that says emotional support animals in the workplace, housing, or other places that are open to the public must be accommodated in the same manner as service dogs, however. This can make it difficult for an employee who needs an emotional support animal.
Call an Employment Attorney to Be Your Advocate
If you have questions about emotional support or service animals or other employment rights under the ADA and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), contact the Mark Law Firm. Our employment attorneys have experience with New Jersey disability discrimination claims, employment law matters, ADA issues, civil rights issues, and more. We can be your advocate through the interactive process and help you request and negotiate an accommodation in the workplace that works for you.
 42 U.S.C. § 12112 (b)(5)(A) (1994); “Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Accessed 9 Mar 2018.
 NJSA 10:5-29.1