Business owners and employees are often the men and women on the front line of service dog public access issues, yet the laws about what they can and cannot say or do are often confusing or unknown, even by local police departments. For this reason we feel it is important to address service dog public access from each an employee, a bystander, and a dog handler point of view. Interestingly, almost as often as we see businesses deny access to working service dog teams, we also see businesses allow dogs who are endangering the well being of other customers to remain in their place of business out of fear of asking a service dog to leave.
If you own a business... we strongly encourage you speak with a lawyer about your state's laws regarding service dogs (or service dogs in training) before there is a problem. Doing so will allow you to confidently handle various situations regarding service animals, as well as enable you to teach your employees how to appropriately interact with customers who have service animals. Keep in mind that even many professionals are often not aware of the nuances of these laws, so be sure to speak with somebody knowledgeable! Keep the contact information available and at hand so that if you run into issues or questions you know who to call.
If you are an employee... ask your employer how they would like you to handle various situations regarding service dogs. Know which questions your employer would like you to ask and know when they would like you to defer the situation to management. If your employer does not seem knowledgeable on the subject, encourage them to speak with a lawyer.
To get you started, we have highlighted a few of the general rights that you have (and don't have) as a business owner or employee.
Employees and business owners are allowed (and sometimes encouraged) to...
Ask specifically what three tasks the dog has been (or is being) trained to do. Keep in mind that dogs in training may be working on handling tasks such as how to walk through small spaces or ignore distractions rather than disability-related tasks such as opening doors.
Ask the customer and dog to leave if it is endangering the health of other customers. For instance...
- If a service dog is barking, growling, or lunging towards other customers
- If a service dog has relieved itself or gotten sick indoors
- If a service dog is contaminating the food or products you are selling (for example by eating food off of a public buffet line or shelf)
Other customers having allergies is not a legal reason to deny access or request somebody to leave. Similar to allergies of any other kind, it is the responsibility of the person with allergies to remove themselves from a situation which may cause them problems.
Ask if the customer needs any extra assistance
Some service dog teams may find it easier to sit in a booth rather than a table, may require some extra time to board an airplane or train, or might appreciate an extra set of hands carrying things to their car. Do not assume everybody needs such help, but be considerate and offer it if you think it would be appreciated.
(Sometimes) Ask if the dog is in training or actively working for the handler
There are a few states which allow working dogs but not dogs in training, making this a relevant question only in certain states. In these states, particular businesses can choose to allow dogs in training or not. Know the rules in your state or business and try to only ask this question if it is necessary. Asking in this question in states where dogs in training are treated the same as working service dogs is irrelevant and can be offensive, which is why we do not recommend it in all situations.
Employees or business owners may NOT:
- Request to see identification or a harness proving the authenticity of a service dog Though many service dog teams may have these things, they are not required by law therefore you cannot ask to see them.
- Ask the person what their disability is or why they need the dog to do certain tasks.
This is an invasion of their right to privacy about their health. You may only ask what the tasks are the dog has been trained to do, not why the person needs those tasks.
- Deny access to the facility nor require that the person with a dog be seated or served differently because they have a dog with them.
Intentionally servicing a service dog team after other customers or seating them in a particular area just because they have a dog is illegal and can result in fines up to $20,000. Whenever physically possible, customers with service dogs need to be given the same quality and type of service as customers without dogs.
We hope this has given you all a general idea of how to handle service dogs in your place of business. Have other questions about service dogs? Send them our way!