The local and national news outlets were buzzing yesterday about a family toting around a five-foot reptile in Philadelphia’s Love Park last week.
Meet Wally, the Emotional Support Alligator.
Imagine encountering this beast on your afternoon stroll out with the family. This report from the Philly Voice included reactions from some of the surprised onlookers:
“Of course, there was a ton of people around taking pictures. The girl (who had the alligator) seemed to be with her family, who were sitting off to the side. They were super friendly. People were picking up the alligator, petting it, all sorts of stuff.”
But an emotional support reptile at work? Not so fast.
Since I don’t want to pick on Wally the Alligator or his owner, let’s change the facts.
Assume that one of your employees shows up to work one day with a crocodile and a doctor’s note stating, “My patient suffers from PTSD. I am prescribing him a mild anti-anxiety medication and an emotional-support crocodile to use as needed.”
What do you do? (Other than scream and maybe have to change your underwear.)
Hopefully, you consider that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability to allow that person to perform the job’s essential functions, unless doing so creates an undue hardship for the employer.
You’re probably not going to question whether PTSD is an ADA disability, but is bringing a crocodile to work a reasonable accommodation?
No, it isn’t.
Under the ADA, service animals may be a reasonable accommodation. But an emotional support animal — even a dog — is not a service animal, and neither the ADA nor its regulations specifically contemplate emotional support animals as workplace accommodations.
This article from the Job Accommodation Network provides a few additional considerations:
- If you have a no-animals policy, you probably don’t have to create an exception — although you could, depending on the job, work environment, and other related circumstances
- If you’re inclined to entertain this accommodation request, you’ll want to satisfy yourself that the crocodile is trained and won’t disrupt the workplace.
- Even then, consider starting with a trial run to see how it works.
Of course, you may get some co-workers complaining, “I don’t get paid enough to endure this *&^%,” before they quit en masse.
Remember also that the ADA contemplates a good-faith, interactive dialogue between employee and employer when exploring possible accommodations. Additionally, the employee is not entitled to their first choice of accommodations. So consider whether another accommodation may better suit this employee, such as a remote work option or flexible working hours to spend time with the crocodile outside work.
And maybe call your insurance carrier while you’re at it.
Otherwise, handling an emotional support crocodile accommodation request will be just another day in the park.