Learning & Development

Going to the Dogs! Train Employees About Guide Dogs in the Workplace

Even the most well-intentioned employers cannot anticipate every potential workplace scenario and provide advance training on how to react in each situation. That’s why it is important to be aware of training-related issues that crop up at other workplaces and take proactive steps in response.Two recent complaints in New Jersey provide such a learning opportunity. On August 2, 2013, a legally blind man went into a delicatessen with his guide dog and a state orientation and mobility specialist. A deli employee allegedly asked the blind man to remove his dog from the store, even after the mobility specialist explained that the dog was a service animal allowed by law to enter the store, according to a statement released by the state’s attorney general’s office and Division on Civil Rights.

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Later, the legally blind man filed a civil rights complaint. Under a settlement agreement, the deli made no admission of wrongdoing or liability but agreed to pay the legally blind man $1,500, according to the statement. The deli also is required to train its employees about their legal obligations when dealing with service animals and provide them with related sensitivity training.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, the division issued a “Finding of No Probable Cause” in a case involving a man who accused a New Jersey hospital of discriminating by refusing to accommodate his 12-pound poodle, which he claimed to have trained personally as a service dog. Although the dog had been issued an “Assistance Dog Tag” in another state, it did not receive the type of training associated with a service dog, according to the division and attorney general’s office.

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“Both of these outcomes are significant because they involve an area of the law that is important to many people with disabilities and because, frankly, there is confusion and misinformation out there regarding the law,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “In New Jersey, a person accompanied by a properly trained service animal cannot be barred or restricted from using a place of public accommodation. However, of necessity, we must have standards and we must have rules.
“An individual cannot simply declare his or her dog a service animal,” Hoffman explained. “There is responsibility and accountability on both sides of the service dog issue.” Are your employees familiar with the law in your state regarding service animals? If not, make sure they know how to react if a customer, vendor, or applicant arrives with a service animal.