Supporting Workers (and their Employers) with Emotional Support Animals (ESA)

In almost 30 years of working within national and international high-end recruiting and contract labor management, our IPM team has dealt with specially trained service animals, various ADA accommodations and federal regulations, and all the attendant human issues.

But recently we were faced with an “Emotional Support Animal” (ESA), as opposed to a certified “Service Animal” situation. One of our contract employees interviewed for and accepted an offer for a contract position with a long-standing IPM end-client company, a Fortune 100 company headquartered in California. Unbeknownst to us or the end-client at the time, the contract employee had an emotional support animal, a small dog we will refer to as “Red” who had accompanied her to her previous employment. Without getting too deep into the weeds of how we legally, logistically, and practically dealt with this issue, let us briefly discuss “Emotional Support Animals”.

To summarize a few salient points on the matter I recommend a recent New York Times article  “Reptiles to Insects: Emotional Support Animals or Just Pets?”

The topic of ESAs generates a wide array of comments, as one might imagine. One former executive of a Fortune 100 Oil company said to me, “Well, if you let one person do it, everyone will want to bring a pet to work.” Really? This guy hasn’t seen my pets, whom I adore by the way, but I would not want either in my office. Here is a picture of “Moose”, my newest rescue puppy, who I picked out from a photo when he was 1 week old, because he looked like a little Jersey cow. It turns out he may ultimately be as big as a small cow or a moose – and about as well house-broken as either.  The point is an ESA is not just a “pet.”

We were dealing with California law, which is quite clear, but not necessarily consistent with federal law. Our end-client had reasonable rules consistent with the applicable law. Our General Counsel and our VP of Resources worked with our employee to collect all pertinent and required information concerning her demonstrated need for accommodation as well as the  end-client’s requested information about the ESA. Then, our team interfaced with the end-client’s contract administrators, project managers, and HR department to craft a reasonable ESA solution. Discussion of the rational, practical, and common-sense requirements were a part of the process – the dog couldn’t bite people (unless bitten first – that was a joke), the dog had to be housebroken, quiet, etc.  But it was no slam dunk- in addition to the process of exchanging information, specific terms needed to be negotiated.

The end of the story is that accommodations were successfully negotiated, with all being satisfied. Our employee is doing well and from all accounts, she is an exemplary worker for our end-client and “Red” has become a beloved part of the department.

Are there abuses in this area? Of course. Are there legitimate human and humane needs as well? Certainly.  Matthew Dietz, Litigation Director of the Disabilities Independent Group, a non-profit legal advocacy center in Florida, commented that “Anything that makes somebody feel better, why not? As long as you don’t hurt anybody else, what is the big deal?” (See, previous link to NY Times article.) And as long as the request for an ESA falls within the applicable law and reasonable accommodations by the employer, why not, indeed?

We are very proud of our commitment to not only our end-clients, but to all of our employees, contract or otherwise. Perhaps it is best summed up in an email from Red’s owner, our employee, who said:

“IPM has blown me away with their consistent, diligent responsiveness and care.”

This is a win, win, win: our employee happily works at a position at which she is very good; our end-client gets an excellent worker that they need and are now benefiting from; and, the department where Red now “works” can not only benefit from the addition of a new valuable team member but also enjoy the positive contribution that this little dog brings to their work environment.

We learned early on in building the team of longtime contractors that work for IPM that treating every employee like family would be a cornerstone value in our company. Sometimes it is the small acts of understanding and kindness that define real success.

For questions and comments, you may contact me at