From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant
Issues related to service animals in the workplace continue to confuse both employers and the individuals with disabilities who use the service animals, but one of the most confusing issues is whether a job applicant has a right to take a service animal to a job interview. The answer depends on whether the interview is part of a public event, such as a job fair, or a private, one on one interview in the employer’s place of business. Why does it matter whether the job interview is public or private? It matters because there are different rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) related to service animals in public places versus places of employment.
Public job fairs are typically covered by title II (state and local government) or title III (public accommodations) of the ADA depending on who sponsors the fair. They are usually open to anyone who wants to attend so they are considered public. Under titles II and III of the ADA, individuals with disabilities attending a public job fair have a right to take their service animals with them according to Department of Justice guidelines.
For private, one on one job interviews, title I (employment) of the ADA applies, assuming the employer has at least 15 employees. Under title I, individuals with disabilities do not have an automatic right to bring a service animal to a job interview; bringing an animal into an employer’s place of business is a form of reasonable accommodation, meaning the job applicant must ask to bring the service animal to the interview and the employer must consider the request.
But what should an employer do if a job applicant shows up with a service animal without prior approval? From a practical standpoint, the best thing might be to go ahead and conduct the interview if possible and then discuss the service animal if the applicant is offered the job. This way, the employer focuses on the job applicant’s qualifications and not on the employee’s disability. In some cases, the employer might need to ask about the service animal as part of determining whether the applicant is qualified. For example, if the applicant is applying for a food service job, there will be work areas where the service animal is not allowed and the employer may need to make sure the applicant can perform the job without the service animal present at all times. For purposes of the job interview, this discussion should be brief and focused on job performance.
For job applicants with disabilities who use service animals, there are a couple of different options for the job interview. First, the applicant can notify the employer that he/she uses a service animal and ask whether the service animal can be used during the job interview. Applicants should be prepared to provide medical documentation if the employer requests it; under the ADA, employers are allowed to require medical documentation when an applicant or employee requests an accommodation and the disability and/or need for accommodation is not obvious or previously documented. Some employers try to minimize medical documentation related to accommodation requests for job interviews, so hopefully applicants will not be required to provide any, but it is good to be prepared.
The other option is to not use the service animal during the job interview. Some people need their service animal with them at all times, but others are able to be without the service animal for brief periods and opt to wait to talk with an employer about the use of the service animal until after a job offer is secured.
Also, there may be state laws related to service animal access that require employers to automatically allow job applicants to bring a service animal to the job interview. For information about state laws, see http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/51