Can Miniature Horses Be in the Workplace?

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

Recently, we discussed whether a miniature horse qualified as a service animal allowed to enter public accommodations under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The answer is yes, but what does that mean for employers under Title I of the ADA when an employee requests to bring their service animal (or other animal) into the workplace as a reasonable accommodation?

Applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Title I of the ADA protects employees and applicants of companies with 15 or more employees. A covered employer is required, absent an undue hardship, to provide a reasonable accommodation to an otherwise qualified individual who meets the definition of disabled under the ADA. A qualified individual is someone who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position.

Can a Mini-Horse Be a Reasonable Accommodation?

Yes. Generally speaking, reasonable accommodations are modifications to the workplace that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of their position. While this could include a screen-reader for an individual with a vision impairment, a standing desk for a receptionist with back pain, or a light-duty assignment for an employee recovering from pregnancy — it could also include permission to bring a miniature horse into the office or workplace.

What To Do When an Employee Requests to Bring Their Mini-Horse to Work

Under Title I of the ADA, unlike Title III and the public accommodations provision, there is no definition or discussion of service animals. The animal does not need to be trained to provide a specific service related to the disability, and allowing emotional support animals in the workplace can be considered a form of accommodation.

This does not mean that employers must agree to the presence of any animal in the workplace. First, the employers should require documentation from the employee’s medical provider certifying that the presence of the animal is required for the employee to perform their job duties. The employer can ask the doctor to explain how the animal’s presence will assist the employee to carry out those essential functions. Currently, Title I does not allow employers to require training certificates for the animal.

Next, the employer should examine whether the presence of the animal in the workplace creates an undue hardship. Certainly, horses or any other creature that generate noise, odor, aggressive behavior, waste products, or other interference may result in a hardship due to such disruptions. The employee will need to agree on feeding and housekeeping procedures that do not significantly interfere with their work performance.

In some cases, presence of the animal will generate complaints from coworkers, often relating to allergies or psychological conditions. Employers can sometimes get caught in a “battle of the disabilities,” having to balance the conflicting rights and interests involved. For this reason, any accommodation provided should be communicated as temporary in nature, and subject to change based on business needs and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the measures put into place.

Employers are also entitled to provide effective accommodations that are not the first choice of the employee. If the animal is requested for emotional support, the employer could explore alternatives such as remote work, schedule adjustments, or other measures that would effectively lessen triggering events during the workday.

Each of these situations is highly fact-specific, and the process to determine whether an accommodation is reasonable should be interactive between the employer, individual, and sometimes the individual’s medical provider. Regardless of the ultimate decision, employers should keep records of their deliberations and reasons for granting or denying the requested accommodation.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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