News from the NW ADA Center – Idaho
Service Animals as Reasonable Accommodation for Workers
Service dog questions are one of the most frequent requests for technical assistance we receive at the NW ADA Center- Idaho regarding the ADA regulations. Recently we received a unique question regarding the obligation of an employer to approve a reasonable accommodation for an EMT with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who requested the use of a service dog at his job.
To answer this question, Title I of the ADA employment regulations were reviewed regarding service dogs as a reasonable accommodation in the work place. Job Accommodation Network (JAN) resources on service dogs as a accommodation in the workplace are referenced in this story.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Title I of the ADA does not require employers to automatically allow employees to bring their service animals to work. Instead, allowing a service animal into the workplace is a form of reasonable accommodation.
The employment regulations require the employer to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee when a reasonable accommodation is requested. The employer cannot automatically deny the employee’s request; the discussion must clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate accommodation.
According to the EEOC, if a service animal has been trained to help with the employee’s medical needs, the employee has a right to ask that, as a reasonable accommodation, the service animal must be allowed to accompany the employee to work unless doing so would result in an undue hardship.
However, employers do not have to allow an employee to bring an animal into the workplace if it is not needed because of a disability or if it disrupts the workplace. It is important to keep in mind that the employee must be able to describe to the employer the specific job related or supportive task(s) that the service dog will do for the employee in the work place.
The employer can ask if the service animal is required because of the employee ‘s disability. Limited documentation from a medical or other appropriate professional, can be requested on why the accommodation is needed. This information should describe how this allows for the individual’s medical needs and describe the work or task the dog is trained to perform. According to EEOC, there is no specific definition of service animal under Title I. Title II and III ADA regulations do not apply to reasonable accommodation questions arising under Title I.
Captain Louis Belluomini, Combat Veteran was interviewed to provide education on how he successfully uses Star, his service dog, as a reasonable accommodation at his paramedic job. Louis is currently working with the NW ADA Center-Idaho to develop technical assistance materials for first responders with PTSD on tips and recommendations to effectively use a service dog in a emergency work setting.
Louis pointed out that there are very few first responders in the United States that have a service dog accompany them on the job. “A service dog as a reasonable accommodation is practical and can definitely work in the emergency work setting if you have a highly trained service dog and a supportive employer!” confirms Louis.
Louis has been a paramedic since 2007. Star accompanies Louis at his new job with Putnam County in Ottawa, Ohio as a paramedic and also at Hanco EMS in Findlay, Ohio. Both places of his employment are emergency medical service providers and busy 911 systems that receive a wide variety of calls. Star also accompanied Louis at his previous job when he worked for ProMedica in Toledo as a flight and ground medic in a critical care roll, as well as a paramedic in the ER at Toledo Hospital and Toledo Children’s Hospital.
Can Emergency Medical Employees who have PTSD use Service Dogs Successfully on the Job?
“Absolutely! Star is highly trained as a service dog for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). “Training Star to my job duties and work on the ambulance was not difficult, at all!” explains Louis.
“Service dogs can absolutely make a positive impact on a person’s career in the emergency work environment!” The biggest barrier is if other people have negative attitudes toward you and your service dog!” Louis says.
“If you are surrounded by positive people who want you to be successful and they don’t view you as a crutch, you can be very successful at your job. Each individual is unique on how PTSD impacts a person’s life and how they choose to cope with the trauma,” stresses Louis.
Louis exclaims, “My service dog, Star, is my medication which controls my PTSD in my work environment and personal everyday life. She is my medication when actual medication did not work!”
According to Louis, first responders are called to extreme emergency situations, a service dog has to be highly trained on how to deal with stressful situations and also stay focused on their handler who has PTSD.
Star was in training for a year before Louis met her. “I went down to Florida and met Star,” he said. “We went through training together for 3 weeks.” Star was paired with Louis through the nonprofit K9s for Warriors.
Louis highlighted some of the basic qualities a service dog must be trained to do: understand the hold-down-stay command in a designated area of the ambulance. A service dog should always be well-groomed, clean, potty trained, not fearful or aggressive or reactive.
Louis explains, “I have had combative and aggressive patients in the ambulance and Star is trained to know when she is in the ambulance and stress levels get high, she does not react.”
Louis’s job duties require him to be on shift for 24 hours and off duty for 72 hours. He has his own quarters where they can sleep while j waiting for a call.
Louis said Star is trained to sense when he is having a nightmare due to his PTSD and Star will nudge him awake with her nose or paw at his face and head. “She also senses when I’m about to sleepwalk,” he said. “Then quietly crawls up on the bed and lays on top of me and prevents me from getting up.”
Star senses when Louis is in an uncomfortable situation. He said Star will also hold her body stiff to assist as a brace if Louis has to get up and down on a run.
Louis said most patients do not even realize Star is accompanying him on the EMS runs. Star will get into the squad and sit quietly in the space between the driver and the cab.
On a call if a patient is fearful of dogs the designated space in the ambulance for the service dog is behind the patient or behind the Captain’s chair which can be separated from the patient by a door or she can be moved to the front passenger seat.
Louis says, “I am lucky to have found K9s for Warriors this program has allowed me to do what I do best as a paramedic and continue to help people in my community.
Louis explains that he was officially diagnosed with PTSD in March 2016, dating back to his military tour in Iraq in 2009. For a long time Louis stayed quite about his PTSD, “I was afraid of backlash from the military because of my diagnosis of PTSD. I had a top-secret security clearance and was afraid the military would take it away from me and change my job. I was very reluctant to get help from the VA right after I was diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).”
Louis explains, “We are trained not to talk about what we experience, keep driving forward, tuck away our pain, be tough and get over it. This is not fair to our warriors on the front lines!”
“When we swallow our pain and try to forget, we are just causing deeper PTSD related issues. We take our submerged feelings home to our families. We are failing our heroes and leaving them with extra stress that could
lead to negative responses when away from the work environment,” Louis says.
Louis finally got help from the VA for PTSD and TBI related issues. He started with medication that did not help and made him physically and mentally worse. Louis and his wife, Jessica, eventually looked into a program called K9s For Warriors. Louis was selected for the training program; K9s for Warriors selected a service dog, Star, to help Louis deal effectively with PTSD at home and in the workplace.
Louis says, “If it wasn’t for K9s for Warriors, support from Jessica, his wife, and Star I would probably be dead! My PTSD has taken me to dark places and put me in bad situations. I am convinced that if it wasn’t for these three important influences in my life, I would not be here right now.”
News Stories Featuring Louis and Star on the Job
Louis and Star were featured in a news story about his new job in Putnam County, go to the following link to read the interview: http://www.hometownstations.com/story/34934170/service-dog-helps-putnam-county-paramedic
Louis and Star are featured in a news story at his previous job with ProMedica go to the following link to watch the video: https://youtu.be/1FnE3LNVMXI
Regulations Related to Title I Employment Disability Discrimination: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability_regulations.cfm
Employers’ Guide: Reasonable Accommodations Recognizing Accommodation Requests: https://askjan.org/Erguide/Three.htm#B
Service Animals in the work place:
Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights:
Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): http://askjan.org/media/ptsd.html
ADA: Know Your Rights, Returning Service Members with Disabilities: https://www.ada.gov/servicemembers_adainfo.html
PTSD Video A First Responder’s Story
PTSD: A Healing Story: https://youtu.be/E97l4Cjarpg
Dana Gover, MPA, and ACTCP Certification, ADA Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator
For more information about ADA Technical Assistance visit the NW ADA Center Idaho website: nwadacenter.org/idaho
Phone: Voice and Text 208-841-9422
Idaho Relay Service: 711