An in-depth guide that walks through everything you need to know about having emotional support animals in the workplace. Hint: HR policies for the win.
Emotional Support Animals

Returning to Work Post-Pandemic: Make the Transition Easier By Bringing Your ESA Dog

Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable
3 minutes
February 15, 2022

COVID-19 lockdowns highlighted the benefits of working from home, especially those related to pets. Countless people took advantage of flexible schedules and time at home to adopt a pet during the pandemic. Dogs and cats everywhere enjoyed swapping hours at home alone for walks, treats, and cuddles during Zoom meetings. Some pets even took on the role of emotional support animal and service animal. While service animals are specifically trained to help people perform specific tasks and live a more independent life, emotional support animals also help people function day-to-day.

If you’re like many people, you got used to keeping your pet with you during the workday. Having unbroken time with your dog or cat is especially important if they help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, or other symptoms of a mental or emotional disability. But what happens when you have to go back to work? Emotional support animals have become an integral part of the lives of many. It's hard to imagine leaving your furry friend behind while you go back to a nine-to-five. So you may find yourself asking: Can I bring my emotional support dog to work?

Can you bring your dog to work?

woman at work with emotional support dog
Pet-friendly work environments can really boost morale.

Many companies are creating pet-friendly work environments to boost employee morale. Companies are recognizing the emotional toll that a pandemic has placed on workers and the negative effects this has on his or her job. If your employer has transitioned to a pet-friendly workplace, you can just bring your dog with you when you return to the office. It is less likely that your company will allow any other animal, like a miniature horse, depending on its size and cleanliness. But dogs are easily trained and can be well behaved, so they can adapt to the pace of an office better than other animals may.

But what if you don’t work in a pet-inclusive building? If your dog is an emotional support animal (ESA) who helps you cope with a mental illness, you may be able to bring them to work with you anyway. However, you’ll probably need an official ESA Letter as proof that your dog is an assistance animal.

Getting an ESA Letter for your dog

esa dog in the workplace
Using an online service can help you get your ESA Letter quickly.

The easiest and fastest way to get a legitimate ESA Letter for your dog is through an online service. It's best to avoid any service that guarantees a letter or one that offers you a letter before you've spoken to a licensed medical professional. With a web-based service, you don’t have to find a local mental health professional and wait for an appointment to open up. Pettable allows you to get your ESA Letter online in three quick steps:

1. Take the prequalification quiz

Pettable simplifies the process of getting an ESA Letter by taking you through a prequalification questionnaire. This quiz can help determine whether your symptoms could qualify you for an emotional support animal. 

The questions cover a range of mental illness signs, including anxiety, paranoia, lack of motivation, and impulsivity. Going through all the questions only takes about three minutes. If your answers meet the eligibility criteria, you can move on to the official evaluation.

2. Get evaluated

Once you’ve passed the prequalification quiz, you can schedule your consultation with a licensed mental health professional. Pettable works with licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) who can diagnose your condition and determine whether you would benefit from an emotional support dog.

3. Receive your letter

If your LMHP determines that an ESA dog could help mitigate the symptoms of your mental or emotional disability, they will write a recommendation for one. This ESA Letter confirms your dog’s status as an assistance animal. With Pettable, you can get your document in as little as 24 hours after you qualify.

Discussing your ESA dog with your employer

woman and esa dog at work
Tips to work with your employer

The law prevents employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities and requires them to make reasonable accommodations for those employees. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly requires employers to accommodate service animals (e.g., guide dogs), the issue of emotional support animals is less clear. Some employers may modify their no-pets policy for an ESA, but others may deny such a request. 

However, many employers are becoming more receptive to allowing emotional support dogs in the workplace, especially with the correct documentation. Your signed ESA Letter is proof that a licensed medical professional recommends an emotional support animal to treat an emotional or mental disability. 

When you ask for permission to bring your dog to work, give your employer a copy of your official ESA letter. Discuss the potential benefits for the company: how you can perform job tasks more efficiently when you’re not dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. If your employer still won’t allow your ESA in the office, consider asking to continue working from home, at least on a part-time basis.

Differences between service animals and ESAs

The roles of service animals and emotional support animals are different in several ways, so the rules that apply to them are also different. There are several different categories of working dogs that qualify as service dogs.

Guide dog

Some service dogs help people who are visually-impaired. A guide dog is a service dog that helps someone who is blind or visually impaired lead a more independent life by guiding people safely around obstacles. Guide dogs may also be called seeing-eye dogs. These service dogs help people perform a specific task while remaining safe. While guide dogs help people who are visually impaired, other service dogs help people who are hard of hearing.

Hearing dog

Both of these types of service animals help people perform tasks and live a more independent life. A hearing dog may sometimes be called a signal dog because these dogs signal a hearing-impaired person when it hears certain sounds like a fire alarm, alarm clock, cellphone, or doorbell. Some service dogs are mobility dogs that help people who walk with assistance or have trouble balancing.

Mobility dog

Mobility dogs assist a person with a disability that affects their mobility. Some mobility dogs help people who may use a wheelchair, a walker, or another walking-assistance device. Mobility dogs are also individually trained to help people with their balance. This type of service dog is trained to help people with how they move from place to place, whether that's in their home or outside of their home. Some service dogs are considered psychiatric service dogs.

Psychiatric service dog

Psychiatric service dogs, or psychiatric assistance dogs, help people who struggle with mental illnesses that cause immense stress, like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or the negative effects of traumatic brain injuries. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help their owners by retrieving medicine for their owner or alerting their owner to unsafe events, like fires. 

These service dogs also have time-sensitive tasks, like reminding their owner to take their medication on time. State and local laws are more likely to accept each of these types of service dogs in public places because there are regulations to ensure that service dogs are specially trained to do their jobs and allow people to live more independent lives. Emotional support animals are a little different.

Emotional support animals

These pets don’t need to be specifically trained to offer emotional comfort to their owners. Support animals may not even be dogs. Some of the most common emotional support pets include dogs, cats, miniature horses, and miniature pigs. There aren’t as many public accommodations for emotional support pets. There aren’t as many rules regarding the training for emotional support pets, and emotional support pets can vary in size as well.

Top tips for having your dog at work

esa dog in the workplace
How to keep your dog and colleagues happy in the workplace.

It’s beneficial to everyone to make sure your ESA dog doesn’t disrupt the office. 

  • Consider your coworkers’ health and safety: Assistance animals should be reliably potty trained, vaccinated, and clean. Jumping, chewing, scratching, and aggressive behavior should be eliminated with dedicated training. Animals in the workplace cannot create safety concerns for other employees.
  • Ensure good behavior: Emotional support animals don’t need to have any formal training, but it’s a good idea to make sure your dog knows basic commands: sit, stay, and lie down. These commands will help emotional support animals keep the work environment safe without any extensive training.
  • Retain control: Keep your dog on a leash or within voice control at all times.
  • Prepare your space: Whether you work in an open-plan space or an office with four walls and a door, figure out where your dog will be during the workday. You may want to bring in a basket or pillow to encourage your dog to sleep. If your dog is crate-trained, they might appreciate having a crate at work as a place they can go to feel safe. Keep a well-stocked jar of treats to reward good behavior.

With a bit of preparation, you can make sure that bringing your emotional support dog to work is a good experience for everyone.

Reduce stress and anxiety by keeping your ESA dog with you at work

If you have an emotional support dog, you’ve probably gotten used to their comforting presence while working from home during the pandemic. When your employer tells you that it’s time to come back to the office, you may be worried about managing your symptoms without your ESA. While people with service animals are given reasonable accommodations in the workplace, this isn't guaranteed for owners of companion animals.

Fortunately, you may be able to get permission from your employer to bring your dog to work as long as you can show they’re an assistance animal. Your employer may request documentation of your need for an emotional support animal. Getting an ESA Letter online is quick and easy with Pettable. Once you have your letter, you can talk to your employer about bringing your dog when you go back to work.

Benefits of working with your emotional support pet

If your company has requested all of its employees to return to the office, anyone would feel a flurry of negative emotions for anyone, especially an individual with a disability. There is so much uncertainty that arises from having to change up your schedule and your pet’s schedule. While there is no federal law that requires a workplace to provide reasonable accommodation, employers should still consider each individual case. As stated earlier, the law requires that employees make reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability. 

Most companies realize that anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and other mental health issues can substantially limit a person’s productivity. An employee's disability, like chronic stress, major depression, anxiety, or any other mental disability should not hinder a person in the workplace. Essentially, it’s best to reach out and speak with your employer about your medical need to have your emotional support pet with you when possible. 

It’s also a good idea to present your official emotional support animals letter to your employer as well. This letter, signed by a licensed mental health professional, shares your medical need for your emotional support pet or emotional support animals. Private employers may be more likely to offer a flexible work environment for their staff, including a hybrid or remote working style.

Meet the author:

Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable