The flight crew of a Delta Airlines plane had a surprise recently when a turkey—yes, a turkey—was brought on board as an Emotional Support Animal. Passengers and crew posted pictures online of the bird sitting in a baby seat during the flight and being pushed through the terminal in a wheelchair. But don’t get all aflutter over the prospects of a turkey being brought into your workplace; it probably won’t happen.
We know that most Emotional Support animals are usually cuddly pets, but because of training in company policy and the federal Air Carrier Access Act, the crew members knew that they had to accommodate one with a pointy beak and sharp nails that is more often regarded as a meal than a comfort.
Delta spokesperson Ashton Morrow told USA Today’s Road Warrior Voices:
“Delta complies with the Air Carrier Access Act by allowing customers traveling with Emotional Support Animals or psychiatric service animals to travel without charge in the cabin. While we can’t always accommodate all pets, Delta employees made a judgment call based in part on extensive documentation from the customer. We review each case and make every effort to accommodate our customers’ travel needs while also taking into consideration the health and safety of other passengers.”
In fact, airlines can be fined as much $150,000 per incident for refusing to accommodate a passenger requesting to travel with a Support Animal, although the federal Department of Transportation does allow airlines to exclude “unusual animals” such as insects, snakes, and some other animals from flying in the cabin.
Requests to fly with an emotional Support animal must be accompanied by a note from a mental health professional, who may have met with the person only one time. Unfortunately, as with most things today, such notes are available for sale on the Internet, as are vests indicating an animal is a service or emotional support animal. Fox News reports some passengers get their dogs and cats classified as a therapy animal to save on airlines’ added charges for pets.
So if this incident has you concerned that an employee may request to have a turkey in his or her cubicle or workstation, rest assured.
BLR® has reported that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so creates an undue hardship for the employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends an interactive process (basically, a conversation) between the employer and employee to determine effective accommodations. While emotional support animals may be helpful to an employee dealing with extreme stress, any accommodations must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and an accommodation isn’t reasonable if it creates an undue hardship for the employer’s business. For example, some building leases and local health regulations do not allow having certain animals—such as a 15-pound turkey that is not litter trained—on-site.
If there is a problem with an employee desiring to have a species other than a mammal as a service animal at work, there are cost-free resources to assist in exploring possible accommodations, including the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which states that Title I of the ADA (which contains ADA’s employment provisions) doesn’t define service animals.
JAN also recommends the interactive process and suggests employers find out whether the emotional support animal is trained to be in a workplace and whether it will be under the employee’s control at all times. It may be an undue hardship if an accommodation is unduly disruptive to other employees. It’s also important to remember that some states have laws defining therapy animals (and turkeys are probably not at the top of the list).