Accommodating Service Animals in the Workplace

by Thom Tracy

2 min read

You have a duty to accommodate the needs of disabled employees and customers as long as the accommodations don’t place undue burdens on your business. These classifications can be murky and confusing at times, but in most cases, it’s relatively easy to accommodate service animals.

Human Rights Codes

The laws regarding service animals in the workplace vary depending on the province or city. However, federal human rights codes prohibit discrimination based on disability, and not allowing a service animal to enter your premise is typically considered a discriminatory act. As a general rule of thumb, if an individual is allowed to enter a public place, her service dog is allowed to come along.

Exceptions to the Rule

However, there are exceptions to that general rule. For example, if you run a food manufacturing facility, you can legally ban service dogs in many cases. However, the same is not true of dining establishments. If you own a cafe, a restaurant or a bar, you almost always need to open the door to customers and employees with service animals. Before you turn away a service animal, however, you may want to check with a disability law expert in your area. Barring an animal that should be allowed can result in fines or lawsuits. For example, under the Blind Person’s Rights Act, business owners may face a $5,000 fine for turning away service animals.

Demanding Proof

By law, you can request to see proof that an individual needs a service dog. Beyond the service vest and how the dog acts, you may want to ask for a letter from a health care provider stating that the person needs a service dog. Requiring this information makes sense if you’re dealing with an employee who needs to bring a dog to work every day. However, when dealing with customers, you may simply want to let them and their vest-wearing service dogs in freely. Requesting to see proof may turn off customers and potentially damage your reputation.

Accommodating Other Employees

In some cases, the service animal that helps one person may induce an allergic reaction in another person. In most cases, when a service animal enters your place of business with a customer, the animal isn’t on the premises long enough to trigger an allergic reaction. If you have an employee who is especially susceptible, you may want to vacuum or wet mop to remove hair and dander after the animal has left. If you are trying to juggle the needs of an employee who needs a service animal with an employee who has allergies, put some space between these individuals. According to a study commissioned by a Canadian airline, placing service animals and allergy-prone flyers at least five rows apart tends to be effective. Try to create a similar buffer in your office. Additionally, clean the filters in your HVAC system regularly, put a HEPA filter in the office vacuum and keep the air as clean as possible.

References & Resources

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