As reported in the Oregonian, the Department of Justice this week implemented amendments to a number of regulations governing Title II and Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Title II of the ADA applies to public entities, while Title III applies to public accommodation. While the new rules do not apply to Title I, which covers employment, they will impact any business that constitutes a place of public accommodation, which includes all businesses that provide access to members of the public.

The primary change that will impact employers whose businesses constitute a place of public accommodation is a new definition of what constitutes a “service animal” under the Act. The purpose behind the rule change is to combat the dilution of the “service animal” label, “which has resulted in reduced access for many individuals with disabilities who use trained service animals that adhere to high behavior standards.”

The definition includes two primary changes: First, animals intended only to provide emotional support are no longer considered service animals. The second change limits the definition of a service animal to include only dogs that have been individually trained to do work that benefits an individual with a disability. Other animals, wild or domesticated, trained or untrained, no longer qualify as service animals, except, in limited circumstances, miniature horses. Places of public accommodation are not required to admit customers or members of the public with “service animals” that do not meet this new, limited, definition.

We want to stress again that this change does not apply to the part of the Act that relates specifically to employment, and does not in and of itself require employers to allow employees to have service animals. Employers presented with a situation where an otherwise qualified employee with a disability requests use of a service animal should engage in their usual reasonable accommodation analysis. This new rule does have the potential to inform that process for employers, by providing insight as to what's considered “reasonable” in the public accommodation context.

For more information on the ADA rule changes, including the text of the rules and fact sheets for employers, go to the Department of Justice’s ADA home page.