Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) have become a popular source of healing for people all over the country. This is in large part because of the proven ability to ease the suffering from emotional challenges. Although ESAs are cheaper and safer than prescription medication, it has taken some time for them to be properly recognized in the United States.
Things have gotten better recently, as the Americans with Disabilities Act paved the way for more protection to people with these challenges. Today, ESAs are recognized and protected by the Federal Government, and allowed to accompany their handlers in the cabin of airplanes at no extra cost to the patient. As with many laws in the U.S., some rules can vary by state. While the ADA takes the first step in protecting people across the board, some states go the extra mile to make things even easier. If you’re lucky enough to live in California, your rights as the handler of an ESA may be even more broad. Remember, when the state and Federal laws don’t coincide exactly, whichever offers greater protection to the patient usually applies. So let’s go over ESA Rights in California and what that means for you.
The best thing about the ESA Rights in California is that in addition to free travel on airlines, ESAs are allowed in some other places as well. Thanks to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Tenants in California have the right to keep an ESA in their home, regardless of the rental unit’s rules about animals in general. Furthermore, the landlord can NOT charge the tenant an extra fee for keeping an ESA. California is a state where housing is hard to come by, especially for people that care for animals. This rule makes it easier for people challenged with emotional issues to comfortably live their lives without fear of losing their home.
California again goes the extra mile when it comes to ESAs in the workplace. At the Federal level, emotional support animals are NOT guaranteed access to a patient’s place of business. But FEHA ensures that any business in the state with 5 or more employees must make accommodations for people with an ESA. The rule isn’t completely overreaching though. While many species qualify as an ESA, only dogs are recognized and ESAs that will be allowed in the workplace. Furthermore, the state makes clear that the ESA dog must be well trained, clean, certified to provide assistance for a disability.
Employers are within their rights to request proof of an ESA’s status. Even if your dog does in fact provide you with emotional support, you must have proper certification and documentation for employers to recognize. The same may also be true for air travel and house leasing, so it’s important to go through the proper channels and get your companion certified.
Finally, in general, ESA rights in California assumes a broader approach to defining emotional support animals in the workplace than the Federal government does. According to California law, one only need to be “limited” by a disability to qualify for the use of an ESA. The Federal law states that one must be “substantially limited” to qualify. While this seems like a minor difference in language, the Federal statutes can be interpreted in a way that would prevent people with several types of challenges, like depression, to be prevented from accessing their ESA’s support at work.
As always, we encourage everyone who has or is thinking of getting an ESA to be as educated as possible about the law. Remember that in many cases, when it comes to ESAs, the law is on your side!