Service Animals, Assistance Animals, Therapy Animals—What’s the Law?

Guide dogs and service dogs have helped individuals with disabilities navigate life for decades. Now you also see assistance animals, therapy animals and emotional support animals. What’s the difference and what’s the law?

Many people legitimately need service, support or therapy animals, while others use the “therapy animal” name and even fake vests and registries to sneak their pets into public places. So what rights do users of service animals have?

Employment discrimination: Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination in employment. If employees or prospective hires need a service animal, you cannot prohibit them from having the animal at the work-site. You can ask the nature of the services the animal performs, but you cannot ask about the nature of the person’s disability.

Discrimination in public accommodations: Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. As with employers, owners or managers of public accommodations can ask about the nature of the services performed by the animal, but not the nature of the person’s disability.

The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. Service animals also assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Examples include:

 

  • Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
  • Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
  • Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

 

The ADA does not limit its definition of disabilities to physical disabilities—psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities also qualify. The ADA National Network says, “Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches, or turning on lights for persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), interrupting self-mutilation by persons with associative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.”

To qualify as a service animal, two conditions must apply: the person must have a disabling condition and the animal must be trained to perform a specific task or tasks. If they meet the definition, the ADA considers animals service animals regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service Animals vs. Assistance Animals and Therapy Animals vs. Pets

Some people use therapy dogs or emotional support dogs. These animals may provide therapeutic or emotional support to a person with a mental health disability, such as PTSD. They are not trained to perform specific tasks; instead, their mere presence has a calming effect on their owner.

The FHA, Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, allows therapy or emotional support dogs to be kept in housing with pet restrictions. If the owner has a verifiable disability, the animal is a “reasonable accommodation.” HUD specifically states that “while dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.” Title II and Title III of the ADA do not view emotional support animals, therapy animals and comfort animals as service animals. This means that, outside of housing and air travel, owners of therapy or emotional support animals have no legal right to bring their animals into places where animals are prohibited, even with a doctor’s letter.

The ADA and other anti-discrimination laws are complex. Running afoul of them can lead to discrimination claims, fines and negative publicity. A good liability insurance policy can help protect your business from the cost of defending discrimination claims and paying damages, if any—please contact us for a policy review.

Transgender Employees: The Latest Discrimination Frontier

With the rights of same-sex couples to marry protected by federal law, transgender rights have become the latest frontier in nondiscrimination law. What laws pertain to transgender employees in the workplace, and what happens to employers that violate them?

The Transgender Law Center estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of the population is transgender, although little verifiable data exist. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Continue reading “Transgender Employees: The Latest Discrimination Frontier”

ACA Provisions: Eliminations, Delays, & Extensions

Affordable Care Act

Delays, shifting deadlines, and even the elimination of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are providing employers and group health plans additional time to comply with certain key requirements that have not yet taken effect. For 2016, the following eliminations, delays, and extensions apply.

 

Please Note: This information is for general reference purposes only and is not all-inclusive. Requirements and compliance deadlines are subject to change. Additionally, your company or group health plan may be exempt from certain requirements described below. Employers with questions are advised to contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney or benefits advisor to obtain specific guidance.

 

ELIMINATIONS

 

ELIMINATED: Automatic Enrollment Provisions

 

Provisions of the ACA which generally would have required an employer with more than 200 full-time employees to automatically enroll new full-time employees in one of the employer’s health plans, and to continue the enrollment of current employees, were repealed on November 2, 2015.

 

ELIMINATED: Annual Deductible Limits

 

The ACA’s annual limitation on deductibles for non-grandfathered plans in the small group market has been eliminated, effective retroactively to 2010. However, the annual limitation on out-of- pocket expenses for non-grandfathered group plans was not eliminated and remains in effect.

 

DELAYS

 

DELAYED UNTIL 2020: Cadillac Tax

Implementation of the so-called “Cadillac tax,” an excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage, has been delayed until taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019.

 

 

DELAYED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE:

Nondiscrimination Rules for Fully-Insured Plans

Non-grandfathered fully-insured group health plans are not required to comply with certain rules prohibiting discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals that are currently applicable to self-insured plans, until after regulations or other administrative guidance is issued. However, health benefits offered as part of a cafeteria plan (a plan which meets specific requirements to allow employees to receive certain benefits on a pre-tax basis) generally remain subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of Internal Revenue Code section 125.

 

DELAYED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE:

Form W-2 Reporting for Small Employers

The IRS has granted employers filing fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the preceding calendar year transition relief from reporting the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan on each employee’s Form W-2 until the agency publishes additional guidance.

 

 

 

EXTENSIONS

 

EXTENSION: 2015 Information Reporting Deadlines

 

The IRS extended the ACA information reporting due dates for calendar year 2015 returns and statements (that are filed and furnished in 2016) as follows:

 

  • The deadline for furnishing the 2015 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to employees/responsible individuals was extended from February 1, 2016, to March 31, 2016; and

 

  • The deadline for filing the 2015 Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C with the IRS was extended from February 29, 2016, to May 31, 2016 (if not filing electronically) and from March 31, 2016, to June 30, 2016 (if filing electronically).

 

These extensions have no effect on the deadlines for future years. As a reminder, the deadlines apply to all applicable large employers (ALEs)—generally those with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents—as well as to small self-insured employers that are not considered ALEs.

 

EXTENSION: 2015 Information Reporting Corrections

 

As a result of the information reporting deadline extensions, the deadlines for employers to correct errors and receive reduced penalties for incorrect or incomplete information reported on 2015 returns or statements have also been extended, as follows:

 

  • ALEs must correct statements furnished to employees by October 1, 2016 and must correct both paper and electronic returns filed with the IRS by November 1, 2016.

 

  • Small self-insured employers that are not considered ALEs must correct statements furnished to individuals by April 30, 2016, paper returns filed with the IRS by June 30, 2016, and

 

  • Returns filed with the IRS electronically by July 30, 2016.

 

Note: In general, the IRS will not impose penalties for 2015 returns and statements filed and furnished in 2016 on reporting entities that can show that they have made good faith efforts to comply.

 

EXTENSION: Transitional Policy for Existing Small Business Coverage

 

A previously extended transitional policy which allows health insurance issuers, at their option, to continue small business group coverage that would otherwise be terminated or cancelled has been extended further—to policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2017, provided that all policies end by December 31, 2017. Health insurance issuers that renew coverage under the extended policy are required to provide standard notices to affected small businesses for each policy year.

 

Policies subject to the transitional relief will not be considered to be out of compliance with some of the ACA’s key provisions, including:

 

  • The requirement to cover essential health benefits;
  • The requirement that any variations in premiums be limited with regard to a particular plan or coverage to age and tobacco use, family size, and geography; and
  • The requirements regarding guaranteed availability and renewability of coverage for employers.

 

 

 

EXTENSION: “Pay or Play” Transition Relief for 2015 Non-Calendar Year Plans

Under previously granted transition relief, compliance with the “pay or play” requirements was delayed until 2015 for applicable large employers (ALEs) with 50 to 99 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) that certified that they met certain eligibility criteria. For ALEs with non-calendar year health plans, this transition relief (as well as the transition relief regarding offers of coverage to dependents) extends to any calendar month during the 2015 plan year that falls in 2016.

 

 

Note: The information and materials herein are provided for general information purposes only and have been taken from sources believed to be reliable, but there is no guarantee as to its accuracy.

What to Do in Your Annual Insurance Policy Review

Scheduling regular policy reviews can ensure your business has the coverage it needs, when you need it. If you haven’t reviewed your coverage lately, the beginning of the year is a great time to take care of this important housekeeping matter. Continue reading “What to Do in Your Annual Insurance Policy Review”

How to Avoid (and Costly) Immigration Mistakes

When it comes to complying with provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), you may find yourself forced into two roles seemingly at odds with each other — verifying the employment of every employee while at the same time avoiding discriminatory practices. To help you walk the tightrope, here are nine common IRCA mistakes and solutions to help you avoid them: Continue reading “How to Avoid (and Costly) Immigration Mistakes”

Horseplay: Who Pays When Someone Gets Hurt?

When horseplay occurs in a work environment, does workers’ compensation apply?

Generally, an injury must 1) occur in the course of employment and 2) arise out of the worker’s employment to be compensable. Merriam-Webster defines horseplay as “rough or loud play: energetic and noisy playful activity.”’ Most job descriptions don’t include play…so should employees receive workers’ compensation for injuries occurring due to recreational activities or horseplay? Continue reading “Horseplay: Who Pays When Someone Gets Hurt?”

Why Stress is an Employer’s Problem

Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk. But when stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems. Ultimately, fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates.—NIOSH

Continue reading “Why Stress is an Employer’s Problem”

Does Your Wellness Plan Need a Checkup?

Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act recognized the importance of wellness programs allowing employers to offer higher incentives for participation. Just be careful your incentives don’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Continue reading “Does Your Wellness Plan Need a Checkup?”

Intern-al Affairs

With the jobless rate for people ages 20 to 24 still higher than 10 percent, many college students might be willing to trade their time for an unpaid learning experience. But there is a legal difference between an employee and an intern. Knowing the difference can help you avoid breaking the law. Continue reading “Intern-al Affairs”