Businesses have been dealing for years with the hassles of accommodating customers and employees with service animals. The problem isn’t people who legitimately need the assistance. No one begrudges a blind person the right to a guide dog. But service animals can be used for a wide variety of issues, ranging from a miniature horse pulling a wheelchair to animals that provide “emotional or other support.” To compound the problem, businesses can’t ask customers for any type of proof that there’s a legitimate need for the animal — as opposed to someone just wanting their beloved pet with them at all times.
Now Phyllis Cheng, who directs California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, has joined the chorus of those saying that there should be a way to verify that an animal provides legitimate assistance with a disability. Is she saying this because she’s sympathetic to the burdens placed on businesses? No, the concern is that people who legitimately need service animals are being met with suspicion and that makes them uncomfortable.
Whatever the reason, the law needs to change. If someone needs a service animal, they should absolutely get to use one. But everyone acknowledges that the law’s being abused. For the time being, as we’ve said before, business owners need to train their employees on what they can and can’t do in these situations. They can ask whether the animal is a service animal and what it’s trained to do. And that’s it. Employers do get to ask for certification for their employees’ animals and impose certain requirements. However, any further inquiry can itself be a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and other laws.