Animals in public draw a lot of attention. Usually, it is because everyone loves animals and want to pet the animal or something along the lines of that.
But the majority of society is not supportive of animals at the dinner table, especially in a restaurant. If you are reading this, you have probably had a guest enter your restaurant with an animal by their side and did not know how to address the issue.
This situation requires knowledge of the laws and understanding that if not handled correctly, could result in a lawsuit. That is because of the laws that protect individuals with disabilities that require a service animal.
If someone enters your restaurant with an animal by their side, you must determine if it is a service animal. This way, you can understand how to address the issue.
But it can be difficult to determine if it is a service animal or just a pet. There is numerous of laws protecting individuals with disabilities.
Luckily, most of the time, there will be an indicator that the animal is a service animal, such as a leash, vest, collar, or harness.
In 2011, the Department of Justice implemented revised regulations regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is extremely important to understand the laws associated with service animals to avoid violating the laws and potential lawsuits.
For this purpose, we will refer to the updated regulations of the ADA.
Service Animals: What they are
The first step to understanding the laws for guests with service animals is to understand what a service animal is. Under the ADA, “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. Examples of tasks service animals may perform:
- Guiding people who are blind
- Alerting people who are deaf
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
- Reminding a person of mental illness to take prescribed medications
- Calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack
Service animals are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
The tasks a service animal has been trained to do is solely directed to the person’s disability. Service animals are NOT pets, they are working animals and have a job to perform.
Dogs who provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. But some State or local governments have laws that allow people with emotional support animals to go into public places.
They are allowed in your restaurant, no matter what.
“Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”
For service animals to be allowed in public places, especially restaurants, the service animal must be under control. Service animals, under the ADA, must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the devices would interfere with the service animal’s duties. If it does interfere, the individual must remain full control of the animal through voice, signal, or other controls.
You can ask two questions to determine if it is a service animal.
If you are unsure that the animal accompanied by the guest in your restaurant is a service animal or the task that they service animal may provide, you are only allowed to ask two questions.
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
If you ask anything more than the two questions, it is violating the law and may be discriminating towards the guest.
These two questions can be asked to determine if the dog is a service animal or not. It is important to not ask more than these questions because it violates the guest’s privacy.
You cannot ask this.
It is important to understand what you cannot say or do to an individual that requires a service animal. Not only is it against the law, but it is extremely rude and can result in a lawsuit.
After asking the first two questions that can determine if it is a service animal, you should not ask any additional questions.
The following questions should be things that you avoid completely when addressing the guest with a service animal:
- You cannot ask about the person’s disability
- You cannot require medical documentation
- You cannot require a special identification card or training documentation for the service animal
- You cannot ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
Unless the animal is not behaving, you cannot ask them to leave.
You cannot discriminate or ask the individual with a service animal to leave just simply because. Even if allergies or fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to individuals with service animals.
There are only two scenarios it is okay to ask the individual to remove the service animal from the premises:
- If the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control the service animal
- If the dog is not housebroken
If you do ask the individual to remove the service animal from the premises, you must still offer the individual the opportunity to obtain services without the animal's presence.
There is other stuff that is important when regarding an individual with a service animal. The following are:
- You cannot isolate the individual from other patrons
- You cannot treat them less favorably than other patrons
- You cannot charge fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals
- The service animals can accompany their handler through salad bars or self-service food lines.
It is important to not discriminate towards an individual with a disability that requires a service animal. Understanding what you can and cannot do will allow you to avoid discriminating and avoiding lawsuits.
Remember, service animals are not pets. They are trained to complete specific tasks for individuals with disabilities.
The information for this blog was retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm