Lack of state policy for service animals negatively affecting state employees

Hailey Bridgford, Reporter

Oklahoma state employees are faced with case-by-case approval and denial for service animals due to lack of policy surrounding service animals. According to federal guidelines in place for service animals if the request if found as reasonable meaning there is no direct harm the presence of the animal would cause they are required to allow the animal. Oklahoma state agencies lack a policy regarding service animals leading to case-by-case acceptance and denial situations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states, “The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would ‘fundamentally alter’ the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public.  Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements.  If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited.” This is this policy regarding disabilities.

Federal policy states, “If an employee asks to use a service or emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation, the federal employer must grant the request unless allowing the use of the animal would be an undue hardship or pose a significant risk of substantial harm to the employee or others in the workplace.” State and federal policies are placed for the safety of the people, but the lack of policy for state employees leads to these employee struggles.

A current state employee who applied for a service dog and was denied due to travel restraints describes their process. They were unable to give an accurate answer as to what the policies were regarding service animals from their supervisor leading to the employee to contact Human Resources. Human resources could not provide a policy, but wanted a letter about why they needed it (service animal) and sent them back to their supervisor.

“I spoke with my supervisor he said he had no clue. I went to HR for a policy they asked for a letter with my needs and why I requested the dog and some medical information as to why I requested the animal.”

Later, the employee was asked to provide a doctor’s recommendation. However, before the employee could present the doctors recommendation to their employer, their reasonable accommodation request was denied.

“They gave me options to circumvent my disabilities that they felt would compensate for not having the service animal.” Because there is no policy they said no without the doctors recommendation,” the employee said. “I can see why my agency said, we are going to have to say no on this…about me traveling and not being able to coordinate properly with other agencies with my service animal. What gets to me is they had the option to say no after a medical doctor says that the service animal would aid me.”

“I had to give my medical history to three different levels of management and explain my medical disabilities throughout this process, not many people know about what my disabilities are. For other people that process may be humiliating when they have to disclose what is wrong with them,” they continued.

Agencies in Oklahoma lack basic guidelines surrounding service animals causing Oklahoma State agencies to have the ability to deny service animals after doctor recommendations and after the agency itself labeled the request as reasonable.

For more information on service animals and their rights visit AAA the National Network of information and guidance and US Service Animal guide.