Service animals, ADA and our commitment to accommodate all jobseekers

At SCPa Works and the PA CareerLink® system, we are always looking for ways to continuously improve our services to all job seekers.

A couple weeks ago we had an interaction with a participant and her dog at the PA CareerLink® Adams County public resource area, and the experience was left our staff with plenty of questions. As a result we conducted some research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and got some input from the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and the participant, so we are sharing that information with you in the hope you will be better equipped to handle a similar situation.DFP_7977

One afternoon, my colleague informed me there was a participant in the CRC who had a small dog in a bag/blanket on her lap, and she would not leave or return the dog to her automobile because she claimed the dog was a service animal. I approached the participant and informed her that dogs other than service animals were not allowed in the building. She stated that her dog was a service animal, and that it was a therapy/comfort dog and that certification wasn’t need to proof the dog was a service animal. I went online and followed up some quick research with a call to the PA Labor and Industry EO/ADA office. Offhand, they could not tell me if the commonwealth had their own laws related to service animals that would expand the ADA definitions. Our participant conducted her work and left. More research and outreach to colleagues ensued. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, the person cannot be asked about the nature or extent of his/her disability. Only two questions may be asked: 1. Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability? and 2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
  • Work or performing tasks means that the animal must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels.
  • I thought I had my answer about therapy/comfort dogs from the U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division, where they state that emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA because they have not been trained to perform specific jobs or tasks. However, in some cases, a therapy animal may be trained to somehow prevent or reduce an individual’s impulsive or destructive behavior, which would then classify them as a service animal. The USDOJ went on to say that some states have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.
  • So, what does Pennsylvania have to say about the definition of service animals under the ADA? The Pennsylvania Human Rights Act does not use the term “service animal” but “guide or support animal”. There is no further definition of what this means. It does not appear to be limited to dogs or miniature horses and could, conceivably, include other types of animals. Also, it is arguable that therapy or comfort animals are “support animals” that may be protected by the Act.

As part of our commitment to serving all jobseekers, we wanted to share some of this information to help other PA CareerLink® provide excellent service to all customers. For more information about this and other ADA compliance issues, check out USDOJ’s Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.