Assistance Dogs in the Workplace – Reflections on How to Make It Work – Part 2

Posted by Kim Cordingly on September 10, 2014 under Accommodations, Employers, Organizations, Veterans Issues, Webcasts | Comments are off for this article

By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant

On August 5, 2014, JAN presented a Webcast entitled Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts during International Assistance Dog Week featuring assistance (or “service”) dog experts Dr. Margaret Glenn and Marcie Davis. For those who missed the original Webcast, this presentation is now archived and available in the training section of JAN’s Website.

This is the second installment of a two-part series on the increasingly important role of assistance dogs in the workplace and best practices that support both employee and employer.

Dr. Margaret Glenn is an associate professor in the rehabilitation counseling program at West Virginia University. In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities, her research interests include substance abuse and addiction; alternative health care practices; effective counseling strategies for vocational counselors; and integrative medical and mental health care. In 2012, Glenn was awarded the Switzer Distinguished Disability and Rehabilitation Research Fellowship by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to conduct an exploratory study of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace.

In our conversation, Glenn described her interest in assistance dogs as something that developed organically — partly from a desire to branch out into other areas of research, the need for more information on this topic, and a personal interest in the positive role dogs play in our lives. Little academic research has been done on the use of assistance dogs in the workplace and what factors come into play to make it work successfully from the standpoint of both employer and employee. As an increasing number of people with disabilities seek the support of assistance dogs both in public spaces and workplaces, Glenn felt there needed to be a wider conversation addressing both the benefits and concerns about these arrangements, particularly in the employment arena.

The research from her one-year study is documented in the journal article An Exploratory Study of the Elements of Successful Service Dog Partnerships in the Workplace published in 2013. Glenn’s study explores the research question, “What elements are present in the process of creating service dog partnerships in the workplace.” Based on our conversation and this article, I’d like to highlight a few important takeaways that particularly impact effective employment arrangements.

  • Assistance (service) dogs have greatly expanded their “jobs” beyond assisting those with seeing and hearing impairments to include medical response (such as alerting someone to low blood sugar), mobility and task assistance for a person using a wheelchair, psychiatric support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few. Many of these functions may be for an individual with a hidden disability.
  • Dog partnerships in the workplace is new territory for many employers and Glenn highlights anecdotal concerns such as employees with allergies, potential disruption in the workplace, liability issues, a pet being called a service animal when it is not, and daily logistics such as dog relief areas.
  • There is frequently confusion between the different titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning service dogs. Title II and III require covered entities to permit service animals in public spaces. However, Title I (the employment provisions) applies to the workplace and does not require employers per se to allow employees to bring service dogs to work. Instead, the use of service animals is a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Therefore, when an employee asks to bring a service animal to work, the employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine, on a case by case basis, whether the service animal will be allowed.
  • Glenn’s research seeks to establish a “baseline” of what components are present in successful dog partnerships in the workplace from the perspective of various stakeholders including service dog trainers, individuals with disabilities partnered with service dogs, and vocational rehabilitation counselors. She points out that a limitation of the study was the absence of employer participation despite seeking their input. Anecdotally, Glenn shared with me a conversation she had with a personal contact (and employer) concerning how he would respond to a service animal in his workplace. She was surprised at the misunderstandings and apprehension surrounding service animal use, but found after a candid conversation on the subject, he recognized the profound benefits.
  • Participants in Glenn’s research identified 68 elements they felt were germane to successful dog partnerships. These elements were clustered under the following categories: (1) dog preparation, (2) monitoring, (3) employee competence, (4) legal knowledge, (5) information and education, and (6) coworker preparation.

While not all of these items can be discussed here, a sample of “brainstormed” elements generated by participants include:

–       Under dog preparation:
The dog is well behaved; controlled by vocal command.
The service dog has received training appropriate for the specific workplace.

–       Under monitoring:
The person who is bringing the dog into the workplace must take responsibility for the dog’s behavior and reinforce appropriate boundaries with colleagues.
The dog’s ability to be invisibly present at work.

–       Under employee competence:
The employee or job applicant is able to articulate the specific job related and supportive task(s) that will include the service dog.
For those already working, having a discussion with the employer as part of the decision to obtain a service dog.

–       Under legal knowledge:
An informed understanding of the employer’s legal responsibilities and rights related to the decisions associated with a service dog team in the workplace.
A procedure for establishing options in response to coworkers who are allergic to animals.

–       Under information and education:
The knowledge that service dogs in the workplace break down barriers and facilitate positive social interactions and workplace relationships.
The involvement of vocational rehabilitation counselors and resources to assist both the business and individual in the modification or adaptation of the workplace.

–       Under coworker preparation:
The establishment and respecting of boundaries for the service dog, handler, coworkers, and customers.
A tone set by the supervisor that values and appreciates what a service dog team brings to the employment setting, modeling for the entire workforce.

  • The study participants identified the item(s) with the highest importance as those associated with the monitoring cluster, which focused on paying attention to behavior and task completion, care, and hygiene in the workplace to prevent any problems. This also reinforces an ongoing process of either formal or informal assessment with the goal of ensuring a successful workplace partnership.
  • As mentioned earlier, Glenn’s research participants outline 68 elements stakeholders felt were important to successful dog partnerships. She writes, “…the service dog partnership is successful when all operate within guidelines that provide recommendations for all concerned.” She goes on to say, “The benefits appear to be many and outweigh any potential barriers, with the right mix of information and innovation on the part of employers and employees alike.”

One interesting point Glenn mentioned was that having an assistance dog does identify you in the workplace as an individual with a disability. Because issues of disclosure can be complicated for an individual with a disability, this might be an issue to consider. Lastly, Glenn noted the expanding role of service dogs for certain constituencies – particularly disabled veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD, brain injuries, and mobility impairments.

Continued research on the expanding role of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace will play an important role in understanding how to make them work effectively and enhance employment success for employees and employers alike.

Glenn, M. (2013). Exploratory study of the elements of successful service dog use in the workplace. ISRN Rehabilitation, Volume 2013.

JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series: Service Animals in the Workplace

JAN Webcast: Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts

Working Like Dogs

International Assistance Dog Week

Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook

Service Dog Etiquette

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