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Firefighter’s service dog doesn’t need to prove its training, court says

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Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on Friday ruled that a firefighter will have to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if he has post-traumatic stress disorder and is qualified to receive a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act; however, the firefighter’s service dog will not be required to take an exam to prove its training as a service animal.
  • The Chehalis, Washington, firefighter filed a lawsuit in January 2022 alleging his employer, the City of Chehalis, failed to allow him to bring his service dog to the station as a reasonable accommodation for his PTSD, in violation of federal law. 
  • “The ultimate focus of the inquiry is not on plaintiff’s specific service dog, but rather on the impact of a potential service dog on plaintiff’s PTSD and his ability to continue working in his current role. Specifically, the court must determine whether the city denied, and continues to deny, an “available and reasonable accommodation” that would permit plaintiff to continue with his job in a manner that accommodates his disability,” the court ruled. 

Dive Insight:

The ADA requires that employers provide workers with disabilities reasonable accommodations, unless those accommodations would cause undue hardship. The ADA covers physical disabilities, as well as invisible ones like mental illness.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. HR pros should ensure that managers know how to recognize requests for accommodation and how to escalate those requests as needed, attorneys say.

Employers can be found at fault for either not accommodating a worker or for penalizing them for their disability. For example, a facility management company in January agreed to pay $47,500 in January to settle a lawsuit that alleged it refused to let a disabled worker at heightened risk of catching COVID-19 work from home during the pandemic.

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