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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Humanity's Best Friend in the Workplace

A Business Ethics Case Study

Yuvraj Rao ’23

Yuvraj Rao '23, a 2022-23 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics graduated with a marketing major and entrepreneurship minor from Santa Clara University.


Bruce is working at a small educational organization that allows incoming college students to take classes to better identify their passions as they transition to college. The organization makes $10 million per year and welcomes 600-700 students annually to take part in a two-month program. No college credit is available for taking these courses, but the program provides a good opportunity for students to try out new subjects. The organization has branches at some of the highest-ranked universities in the United States.

When the program is in session at each university, the organization makes arrangements with each respective campus to house both students and workers in the program (many of their workers are also students or recent graduates) in that university’s housing, which is otherwise empty for the summer. The organization was also dealing with a shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it is struggling to find qualified people to teach in-demand subjects, including a new artificial intelligence class. Given social outings and field trips are a critical component of the overall experience, the organization is hoping to add familiar faces to the staff who connect well with the students. Additionally, revenues are very tight at this time. The company has almost nothing in reserves and they’ve had to lower the price to entice students back into the program. Furthermore, they’re facing additional costs with things like sanitizing all rooms and buying masks.

Bruce manages one university’s program in California. The pandemic has begun to subside and the more severe restrictions have been lifted. Fortunately for the organization, student interest is beginning to increase rapidly again. During an interview with a prospective worker, the interviewee, Spencer, tells Bruce that while working, he would need an emotional support animal. This means that Spencer would need to live in a single room as opposed to sharing housing with someone else. Additionally, he would need the dog to accompany him when doing daily work-related tasks. He also requested that the dog be allowed to go on the bus during trips that included the employee and students in the program. Spencer has all documents in order verifying that he is in need of an emotional support dog and has made it clear that his dog significantly helps his overall well-being.

Bruce is facing pressure from upper management to hire more people simply to make the program viable, and he sees this is a great opportunity to hire someone who is willing to work hard for the organization. Specifically, Bruce knows that Spencer has a solid relationship with the incoming students and has done excellent work for the university in the past. As a result, he is highly respected on the campus, and is quite knowledgeable about the artificial intelligence industry. However, Bruce knows that Spencer will be difficult to accommodate. There would be additional costs incurred as a result of hiring Spencer, including providing an individual room, additional office space (since some of the staff were allergic to dogs), and separate transportation across campus.

There are also additional questions to consider, such as whether it would be right to have the dog around all the time in case students enrolled in the program were allergic to the animal. Bruce is also aware that quite a few people suffer from cynophobia, or fear of dogs, and feels that it would significantly affect these students and staff’s overall experience. Bruce has recently read that “California state law allows people with disabilities to bring emotional support animals or service dogs to the workplace under certain circumstances.”[1] Bruce also knows that most California employers must allow service dogs and emotional support animals to work unless it creates undue hardship.[2] Therefore, Bruce understands that he has some flexibility when it comes to accommodating Spencer’s needs and that if needed, he could take advantage of this ambiguity to benefit the organization.

Bruce wants to do the right thing and think through his choice. He is also feeling pressure from management to do something. What should he do - and why? 

Questions to Consider:

  1. Please identify what you think are the most significant ethical values at stake in Bruce’s decision? It will be important to identify these values on all sides of this dilemma.
  2. For assistance in this matter, please consult the section called the “Six Ethical Lenses” from the Framework for Ethical Decision Making by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
  3. What do you think is the most important value at stake in this matter and why?
  4. Is there a way that Bruce can accommodate Spencer’s concerns and, if so, what is the ethical argument for doing that? Please be sure in your answer to address the concerns of co-workers and students who are allergic to or fearful of dogs.
  5. What do you think are the two to four ethical steps a manager should take when engaging a prospective employee with an emotional support animal?


[1] “California Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals in the Workplace.” Law Offices of Mann & Elias.

[2] Duffly, Zachary. “California Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals in the Workplace.” Www.Nolo.Com, 13 Mar. 2023.


Aug 10, 2023