Arizona has made it illegal for people to pass off a pet as a service animal in order to have an animal accompany them to public places where only service animals are allowed. While the new law, which took effect August 3, is a relief to many employers and business owners, they must be careful how they inquire whether an animal is a legitimate service animal.
House Bill 2588 revises A.R.S. § 11-1024 by adding a provision that a person who fraudulently misrepresents a pet as a service animal is subject to a civil penalty of up to $250. The law doesn’t change what constitutes a permissible inquiry, so businesses must understand what constitutes a service animal, and they must know how to make appropriate inquiries when the nature of the service isn’t obvious.
Emotional Support Versus Service
Neither the Arizonans with Disabilities Act nor the Americans with Disabilities Act classifies emotional support animals as service animals. To be a service animal, the dog or other animal must perform work or tasks directly related to the individual’s disability. Tasks don’t include providing companionship or comfort to individuals with psychiatric or emotional disabilities.
To be a service animal that supports a psychiatric condition, the animal must help its handler manage mental and emotional disabilities by, for example, interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during anxiety or panic attacks.
To determine whether an animal is a service animal, businesses may ask only two questions:
- Is the service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the service animal been trained to perform?
Businesses may not ask about the person’s disability or request or require medical documentation from the person with the animal. Because service animals aren’t required to be certified, businesses may not request a special identification card or training documentation. Also, businesses can’t ask for a demonstration of the service animal’s work.
Effects of New Law
The impact of the new law remains to be seen, but it serves as a reminder that proper inquiries are extremely limited. It also provides businesses with some recourse if an inquiry reveals that an animal isn’t a service animal.
But care must be taken in determining whether an animal is a service animal and when asking people with animals to leave when they aren’t required to be accommodated. Handling the situation with compassion is the best way to address an uncomfortable situation with potential legal implications.
For more information on the new law on service animals, see the August issue of Arizona Employment Law Letter.