Florida’s Service Animal Statute Offers New Protections
Dogs in the workplace may become more commonplace in Florida thanks to a new Florida statute extending additional protections to employees who require a service. Service animals are not just dogs (or miniature horses; yes, a miniature horse is identified as a service animal in the statute) employed by a persons who are physically impaired to help complete tasks such as fetching items or flipping on the light; they are often a necessary part of the treatment plan for workers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Florida.
According to the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.” This figure is much higher for veterans with 10-23% pf veterans returning diagnosed with PTSD as the result of involvement in a conflict such as Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), Gulf War (Desert Storm), and the Vietnam War. It has been found that service animals are very effective in addressing and alleviating the symptoms of PTSD.
Service Animal Statute Expands Protections to Workers with Mental Illnesses and Psychiatric Disabilities in Florida
The purpose of the Florida service animal regulation is to expand on the definition of the protections offered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) where there is an ambiguity as to what is a covered service animal and when is animal simply for “emotional support” but not covered under the ADA. The Florida law also takes aim at those who fake service animals. Now under the Florida Service Animal Statute 413.08, misrepresenting a dog as a service animal and/or any business that interferes or prohibits a service animal from entering is punishable as a criminal offense (or a second degree misdemeanor).
The Florida service animal statutes expand protections to any worker who suffers from a physical and/or mental impairment, and requires the use of a service animal. Veterans are the most obvious population to benefit from these expanded protections. Under Florida law the trainer of a service animal is also covered.
What does the Florida service animal statute define as a service dog?
The Florida service animal statute expands the definition of “service animal” and who it protects, such as anyone suffering from physiological disorders or conditions, disfigurement, or anatomical loss that affects one or more bodily functions; or a mental or psychological disorder that meets a category of intellectual or developmental disability, organic brain syndrome, traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, or an emotional/mental illness outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.
The Florida service animal statute definition is outlined below:
(d) “Service animal” means an animal that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work done or tasks performed must be directly related to the individual’s disability and may include, but are not limited to,
- guiding an individual a person who is visually impaired or blind,
- alerting an individual a person who is deaf or hard of hearing,
- pulling a wheelchair,
- assisting with mobility or balance,
- alerting and protecting an individual a person who is having a seizure,
- retrieving objects,
- alerting an individual to the presence of allergens,
- providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability,
- helping an individual with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors,
- reminding an individual with mental illness to take prescribed medications,
- calming an individual with posttraumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack,
- or doing other specific work or performing other special tasks.
The Florida law does not outline a list of accommodations that must be provided for the animal, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does require necessary accommodations, “such as a designated area to relieve itself, bowls of water or assistance with the handling of the dog.” Under both the ADA and Florida law, an employee or agent can be asked if the dog is a service animal and what work or tasks it is trained to perform.
Under the Florida statute, a service dog can also be removed from the premises if the animal is not housebroken, if it is out of control and the handler does not take action to control it, or if it poses as a threat to the health and safety of others; this does not include allergies or fear of animals as a legitimate reason to deny access or refuse services to a person with a service animal.
No license, certification, or formal training is required with Florida service animals. Anyone with a physical or psychological impairment can train a service animal. The basic training for a service animal is obedience training (must be in control of the animal at all times) and the animal must not be a direct threat to the public.
Have you or has someone you know experienced disability discrimination in the workplace?
The best thing you can do for someone who is the victim of disability discrimination in the workplace is seek the advice of an experienced attorney. Set up a free confidential consultation with an employment law attorney at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P. A. today.