More excellent comments and helpful suggestions have poured in from knowledgeable readers relating to ourpost of April 15th (and from April 28th) about an optical store in Michigan which agreed to settle a lawsuit for $53,000 under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
Apparently it denied a request made by an optician with anxiety and panic disorder for the “reasonable accommodation” of bringing her service dog to work: “The dog alerted her to oncoming panic attacks, helped alleviate symptoms during a panic attack, and could also do other tasks, such as retrieve small objects, retrieve her medical bag and guide her to an exit.”
After readers raised a number of issues which we had not foreseen (we are, after all, all too fallible), such as other employees with animal allergies, we asked: “What happens when rights are in conflict when it comes to employment discrimination ?”
The following are some great comments and helpful hints:
Sarah G., somewhere within our reading area:
“Thank you for discussing these very important issues. I would also be concerned about those employees who would suffer anxiety as a result of the service dogs. In my law firm, I know of at least two individuals who have an extreme fear of dogs of all sizes so severe that it causes panic attack-type symptoms.
I did not see the original thread, but what other accommodations were available to this employee? Was she taking medicine, practicing yoga/meditation, or performing any other act to treat/alleviate the anxiety condition before resorting to the need for a dog? Did her employer offer to meet her in the middle by allowing her time to go home and visit the dog and/or by allowing her work from home some days? Suppose two employees wanted service dogs and one was large and one was small – does one dog take precedence over another?
What if someone gets bitten, which is strict liability in most states – whose insurance pays?”
Christina Major, a health recovery expert in Trevorton, PA:
“Why does it not come down to who is more valuable for the company? For this example, if the job causes anxiety to the point a crutch is needed, then the job is not right for the person, and I would side with the other employee who has allergies.
There are also safety issues: Do we allow seeing-eye dogs in a lab where potent chemicals are being vaporized simply because the person applied and became a secretary? The simple act of breathing then becomes an issue for the dog. Yet, according to the rules, the lab would have to change for the dog, which could close the lab due to costs. The fines would be cheaper.
I think we expect the world to accommodate us, rather than adapting as we need to. Yes, we do need some precautions and reasonable accommodations.
I have a friend who owns a restaurant in a registered historic building in a registered historic district. She has a temporary ramp she can put down for accessibility, because a permanent ramp would cause traffic problems or block neighboring buildings. Yet, she was sued because someone decided it wasn’t good enough; that it was discrimination for them to have to request the ramp. How is that right or fair to the whole population to injure a business, road, sidewalk, and neighboring businesses simply to avoid asking for a little help?”
Tired Canadian, place unknown (but in any event s/he is no doubt tired):
“You may also have a religious accommodation issue as many religions, particularly some adherents of Islam, consider dogs to be unclean.
In my view, if an existing employee has an allergy to animal dander and has medical documents to establish that she needs a dander-free area, an employer should explore if there is a way to logically separate the service dog from the allergic employee.
The EEOC requires us to look at ways of trying to resolve the issues with a view to creating solutions. In one case, we were able to let the employee come in and out with her service dog; the dog stayed in the employee’s office.
The allergic employee was given an office as far as way as possible. With a few HEPA filters and some creativity, we managed to accommodate everybody.”
Larry Booher, place unknown:
“Opinions on hypos are pretty useless in labor issues. We need to deal in realities. If there is an actual conflict between a service dog and other employees or customers, then we need to look for solutions and should not take any other action (barring the dog, termination, etc.) before exploring solutions.
Involve the employees with the problem in the solution process. Document everything, confirm all discussions, etc. Save the video of the adverse customer reaction. If the employer can afford it, hire an expert. If there are no solutions, only then can we look at Plan B.
In my experience, the EEOC has been reasonable when the employer makes good faith efforts to resolve problems.”