Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Service Animals in Restaurants

Have you had a guest enter your restaurant accompanied by an animal? If you are reading this, then you probably have. Understanding how to handle guests that are accompanied by an animal is very tricky due to the laws that protect individuals with disabilities and require a service animal.

Determining if it is a service animal or just a pet animal is difficult because of the laws protecting the individuals with disabilities. There are only certain questions you may ask the quest in your restaurant without violating the laws and their privacy. 

Luckily, must of the time, there will be an indicator that it is a service animal, such as a vest, leash, 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. 

What is a service animal?

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 the task service animal perform are:
  • 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, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. 

The tasks a service animal has been trained to do is solely directed towards the person’s disability. Service animals are NOT pets, they are working animals. 

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. 

Are Service Animals allowed in your restaurant?

“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 maintain full control of the animal through voice, signal, or other controls. 

Determining if the animal 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 the service animal may provide, you are only allowed to ask two questions
  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. 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 your guests.

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. 

Things you should not ask the guest with a service animal. 

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

Can you ask a guest with a service animal 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:
  1. If the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control the service animal
  2. 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. 

Other Valuable Information. 

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. 

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