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Could you be discriminated against due to your service animal?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of service animals by some disabled people. Part of the problem is because so many nondisabled individuals try to pass off their pets as service animals or emotional support dogs. They make life harder for the truly disabled folks who need their service dogs to lead normal lives.

But the other problem is that far too frequently, the service animal's disabled owner experiences discrimination when going about their daily lives at work. To fully understand the issue, let's examine what the law states about service animals for people with disabilities.

Service animals typically (but not always) are dogs that have been trained to assist their owners with everyday tasks. The may provide stability for those with difficulty walking or pick things up off the floor for those who are wheelchair-bound. They can also stop autistic kids from bolting into traffic and alert their hearing-impaired owners that someone is approaching them from behind.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers service animals. It requires businesses, local and state government agencies and nonprofit organizations to make "reasonable modifications" to their procedures, practices and policies if necessary to accommodate the disabled.

Service animals are defined under the ADA as having received training to perform tasks or "work" for their owners. These services have to have a direct relation to their owner's disability. Obviously, these tasks vary according to the person's unique circumstances. For a diabetic, the dog alerts them when their glucose level drops or rises. With an epileptic, it keeps their owner safe from harm during a seizure.

You should know that staff may only ask two questions when determining whether the dog in question is a true service animal:

  • Is the service animal required because of the owner's disability?
  • What jobs has it been trained to perform?

Employees may not demand to see documentation for the service dog or ask that it demonstrate what it does. They also may not ask the disabled person questions about their disability.

If you suspect that you were subject to discrimination on the job because of your service dog, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. You can also file a lawsuit in the federal courts if you so choose.

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