Assistance Dogs in the workplace

When people hear the phrase “assistance dog” their initial thought is usually of a guide dog, however, there are an increasing number of dogs being trained to help people with various medical conditions. So, employers need to understand the legal and practical implications of assistance dogs in the workplace.

As well as guide dogs for those individuals with visual and/or hearing impairments, there are assistance dogs able to carry out certain practical tasks and others that can detect when their master’s medical condition, e.g. diabetes or epilepsy, is becoming potentially life-threatening.

Extraordinary

Guide and assistance dogs aren’t like ordinary pets – they are working animals with a serious job to do. Primarily, their goal is to help their owners lead independent lives and, wherever possible, this includes enabling them to work.

So let’s suppose that you’ve received a job application from an individual who has an assistance dog due to an ongoing medical condition. You aren’t too keen on having an animal in your workplace so can you use this as grounds to reject them?

The answer is “no”. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for job applicants and employees who have disabilities. That includes accommodating any guide or assistance dog that has been trained by accredited member organisations of the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International. In the UK there are seven such accredited organisations that form Assistance Dogs UK.

Discrimination?

If you did reject a job applicant or dismiss an employee who has a guide or assistance dog on the basis that you don’t want an animal in your workplace, it would amount to disability discrimination.

The one exception to this rule is “emotional support dogs”. They aren’t currently recognised as assistance dogs (because they don’t require formal, accredited, training) and you’re not legally obliged to allow them in your workplace. That said, we recommend that you seek advice from experts before you refuse one.

Legal responsibility

One concern you may have is who is legally responsible for the animal while it is on your premises and, if say the worst happens, it bites someone? At all times the dog will be the legal responsibility of its owner but, thankfully, instances of misbehaviour are rare. A guide or assistance dog that’s been trained by an accredited organisation will always have a yellow ID book issued by the organisation that trained it. That organisation should also be able to help you introduce the dog into your workplace and, where necessary, provide help and additional training.

Need advice?

If you need HR advice on this matter, or any recruitment matters give us a call. We’re a friendly bunch and really keen to make a difference to your business by finding a solution that works for you so call us on 01473 360160.