Would a bring-your-dragon-to-work day ever fly? The ADA weighs in.
Warning: Contains Game of Thrones spoilers
Game of Thrones’ Queen Daenerys Targaryen is the Mother of Dragons. During the eight seasons of the HBO series, which concludes on Sunday, she has often been accompanied by one or more of the large, fire-breathing beasts in a variety of settings.
Not surprisingly, Daenerys’ dragons have been disruptive—and she has allowed them to be that way. For example, in the face of limited resources and an army that needed feeding, Lady of Winterfell Sansa Stark asked Daenerys during a meeting, “What do dragons eat, anyway?” Daenerys famously responded, “Whatever they want.”
Of course, nobody has been able to tell Daenerys where she can and can’t bring her dragons. (Spoiler alert: Only one is still alive for the series finale.) But if she brought them to work, would she be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Dragons vs. Miniature Horses
As my FordHarrison colleagues Rick Warren and David Anderson recently discussed, the ADA generally bars disability discrimination in various public settings. Accommodation requirements for service animals is an issue that often arises for businesses. A “service animal” is specifically defined as a dog that has been trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual. In addition, a miniature horse may qualify under certain circumstances.
A dragon, however, would be off the table under the ADA. As noted by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, “[e]xamples of … work or tasks [performed by service animals] include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”
The ADA generally mandates that state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public allow service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in all areas of a given facility where members of the public are typically allowed to go. However, service animals must be under control through the use of a harness, leash, or tether, unless one’s disability prevents him or her from controlling the animal in that manner (in which case, other effective means of control can be used, including a person’s voice or signals).
Only limited inquiries can be made if the particular service the animal provides is not obvious. Staff of governmental agencies, public accommodations, and commercial facilities can only ask:
(1) Is the served animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Also, a person cannot be asked to remove his or her service animal from a particular facility unless the animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective control of it or the animal is not housebroken. Of course, staffers aren’t required to provide care or food for a service animal.
Significantly, the ADA does not require that public facilities allow access for emotional support animals. So as comforting as it might be for Daenerys to ride Drogon, that comfort and reassurance aren’t enough to allow her to bring her dragon wherever she would like.
Businesses should note, however, that the rules above do not apply in the employment setting. Rather, allowing an animal into the workplace is a form of reasonable accommodation, meaning that an employer must consider allowing an employee with a disability to use a service animal at work unless doing so would result in an undue hardship.