Service Animals in the Workplace – Are They Allowed?

By Greg Thomson | Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, March 27, 2018

Employers have the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace. Accommodations range from changing work hours to modifying their workstation, to providing alternative work tasks, to even allowing service animals in the workplace.

What classifies as a service animal? What are your responsibilities as an employer? Below we answer these questions.

What is a service animal?

An animal is a service animal for a person with a disability:

  1. If it is visibly apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
  2. If the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability

Ways to identify a service animal

  • Service animals may wear a harness or vest as a visible identifier that displays it is a service animal
  • Handlers will have an identification card
  • Some handlers carry a letter from a healthcare provider. The letter will state that the service animal is required for reasons relating to the individual’s disability.

Do employers have to allow service animals in the workplace?

Employers and workers may feel that having a service animal in the workplace is a nuisance or may be concerned with safety. Some may even worry about allergies in the workplace. Employers cannot deny entry to people who use a service animal. Workplace parties must remember a service animal is not a pet; it is an assistant or guide.

Depending on the type of work, some workplaces may be exempt from allowing service animals in the workplace. These workplaces must provide alternative accommodations for the person with a disability to obtain, use, and benefit from the provider’s goods or services.

How to interact with a person who has a service animal

Employers who provide goods or services are responsible for ensuring their all workers, including volunteers. Training should be about the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities.

Training must include:

  • A review of the purposes of the act
  • Requirements of O.Reg. 429/07: Accessibility Standards for Customer Service
  • How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability
  • How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person
  • The use of equipment or devices that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability.
  • What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services.

Tips for interacting with an individual with a service animal:

  • Pay attention to the owner, not the service animal
  • Do not touch the animal without asking permission first
  • Be sensitive and respectful; don’t ask the individual about their disability
  • Do not request that the animal be left in a different location
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