Jarry the Airedale, my pairalegal

Jarry the Airedale–she’s my “pairalegal”

A client recently asked me about accommodating a service dog at work. There were no immediate concerns about having the service dog present (E.g, employee safety, health, etc.). However, one issue that arose was whether to communicate to employees the presence of the dog, and that this is a service dog. I thought that it would be instructive to post our discussion. All identifying information concerning my client has been edited.

My client was told by their insurance company that they couldn’t disclose the service dog status to their employees because this was the accommodated employee’s personal health information. Both the client and I disagree. Here’s our analysis.


Hi there – hope you are doing well. I have an interesting HR case that I wanted to prep you on now just in case we need deeper legal support in the upcoming days or weeks.


We have a new employee, [hire date], who [last week] requested a job accommodation to bring a service dog to work. They are based in our Jondo office. We are working on the interactive process right now and are waiting for the doctor’s note and documentation from them. This is an in-office job.

We are curious that if they do produce the appropriate documentation for a service dog, what steps do we need to take to ensure others in the office are OK with a dog being there. My instinct goes to requesting if anyone is allergic to dogs before we allow a dog in the small building. Any other actions you can recommend?

Within minutes (great customer service!), I responded thusly:

Your idea for a survey or questionnaire is fine. I’d also followup with instructing employees that if they request any sort of medical or family accommodation, due to medical reasons, that you reserve the right to request medical documentation concerning that accommodation.

A few days later, my client responded as follows:


Hope you are doing well.  We have approved the accommodation for the dog to be in the workforce starting Wednesday. We are letting everyone know that there will be a dog in the workplace.  But, I have received feedback from our [insurance company] that we should not use the phrase “service dog” because that gives away this is an accommodation for a disability. I don’t necessarily agree, yes we should keep this confidential but if this is a service dog I don’t know how we can keep that confidential if the dog is on site.

I am sending a note to the location employees in Jondo tomorrow morning.

If you can give you feedback that would be great!

My response:


I disagree with your [insurance] representative. It’s best to disclose that this is a service dog so that all employees can readily distinguish the dog’s presence from any other pet or accommodation, and so they have a heads up [concerning allergies, etc.). Also, there’s no absolute requirement that an accommodation be kept confidential. We just shoudn’t disclose private health information [E.g., the underlying medical condition], but in this context, a service dog’s presence isn’t private health information.


The bottom line is that not all employee personal information is legally protected information, and not all information can or should be hidden from employees. An employee’s coworkers have a right to know about the presence of any external factor in the workplace that poses a safety and health concern regardless of that factor’s service status. Furthermore, all similar situations that arise should be handled on an issue-by-issue basis. As stated by my client—engage in the “interactive discussion); I.e., employers shouldn’t dogmatically (no pun intended!) follow policies that prohibit such an accommodation. Finally, I’ve never heard of insurance coverage being disqualified due to identifying a service dog as such because the dog is a medical accommodation. But, as the saying goes “there’s always a first.”

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