Can I bring my emotional support animal to work?
By now, surely you've heard some usual tales of emotional support animals, including a peacock on an airplane, a kangaroo in a McDonalds, and an alpaca in a drugstore. The United States has seen an increase in emotional support animals in recent years, and it's no surprise, given that being around animals has positive impacts on stress and mental well-being. Those who have been prescribed an emotional support animal by their mental health professional know that their animal can be an important tool in helping them manage stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and even phobias. If you have (or are considering getting) an emotional support animal, can you bring them to work to help you deal with workplace stress and anxiety?
Emotional support animals are different from service animals, which are dogs (or sometimes miniature horses) trained to perform specific tasks to mitigate their handler's disability, and typically allowed in public places like restaurants and stores. Emotional support animals can be any domesticated animal (including a dog, cat, hedgehog, rabbit, ferret, pig, or beaded dragon) and also assist individuals with disabilities. Emotional support animals typically don't perform specific tasks, but they do provide calm and comfort to their owner. The processes for integrating a service animal or emotional support animal in the workplace are similar, and start with an accommodation request.
Requesting an accommodation: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you are able to request that an emotional support animal accompany you to work as an accommodation for a disability. You may want to prepare documentation of how the animal assists you in your job. If your workplace has an "no-animals" policy, your employer may need to look into modifying that policy. Keep in mind that there are some workplaces where animals are strictly not allowed, such as medical offices. You'll want to talk with your employer about how your animal is trained to be calm and quiet in your workplace environment. Employers can decline accommodation requests that cause an "undue burden," such as the animal being disruptive to business. Your employer may also engage you in a dialogue to discuss alternate accommodation options that might also meet your needs (for example, more frequent breaks, a change in office space, or a flexible schedule could aid you in managing stress and anxiety).
Next steps: You and your employer can consider a brief trial period for your emotional support animal to ensure that the pet is not disruptive. As a responsible emotional support animal parent, you should be prepared to keep your pet in a crate or office to accommodate any co-workers with allergies or phobias.
The process for preparing your emotional support animal to join you in the workplace provides you an opportunity to reflect what you need to be happy, healthy, and productive in the workplace, consider all possible avenues to support your success, and to advocate for your needs with your manager