Animals in the Workplace: New Accommodation for Employees with Disabilities
By Phyllis W. Cheng and Mallory Sepler-King
Phyllis W. Cheng is a partner in the Los Angeles Office of DLA Piper and the former Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Mallory Sepler-King is a Civil Rights Fellow at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Effective 2013, a little-noticed amendment to the disability regulations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)1 introduced assistive animals as a reasonable accommodation for employees and applicants with disabilities.2
Specifically, the amendment defines "[a]ssistive animal" to mean "a trained animal, including a trained dog, necessary as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability."3 Consistent with the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA),4 an assistive animal is either: a "'[g]uide’ dog . . . trained to guide a blind or visually impaired person;" a "'[s]ignal’ dog . . . or other animal trained to alert a deaf or hearing impaired person to sounds;" or a "'[s]ervice’ dog . . . or other animal individually trained to the requirements of a person with a disability."5 Added to the mix is the new category of "'[s]upport’ dog or other animal that provides emotional or other support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities such as major depression."6