Oct 6

Working Animals

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Everyone has heard of “bring your pet to work day” but are there any cases where employers are required to allow an employee to have their animal with them at work?

In fact, where that animal assists with a disability this can actually be the case.

Seeing Eye Dogs and Accommodation

Typically, animals, such as dogs, are not allowed in the workplace. But what happens when that dog is a necessary aide to a disabled individual? This weeks’ blog post discusses the duty to accommodate in relation to service animals.

The Law
Per s.10(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, reliance on a guide dog is a disability. Accordingly, as per s. 4.1, an employer has a duty to accommodate an employee who relies on a guide dog to the point of undue hardship.

A recent complaint before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal dealt with an employer’s failure to accommodate on this very basis. In Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse c Spa Bromont inc. (July 25, 2013), 2013 QCTDP 26, the complainant was a massage therapist who suffered from an eye condition. At the time she was hired, her employer was made aware that she would be getting a guide dog, and would initially be working four hour shifts in order to comply with her employer’s policies concerning animals in the workplace. When the complainant was informed by the foundation from which she had obtained the guide dog that she had to be with the dog at all times and subsequently informed her employer of this, her employer cut her hours completely, signifying its rejection of employing an individual who required a seeing eye dog, and thus breaching its duty of accommodation.

When the matter proceeded before the Tribunal, the employer asserted that it had not denied her the ability to come to work with her guide dog, an argument which the Tribunal rejected on the grounds that the employer’s unilateral change in the complainant’s hours following the conversation regarding the need to have the guide dog with her at work was a clear act of discrimination and thus a violation of s.16 of the Charter. The Tribunal also held that the employer had failed in its duty to accommodate when it did not allow the guide dog to accompany the complainant to work.

The Tribunal awarded the complainant $7,605.00, comprised of lost wages and moral damages for the employer’s conduct.

Potential situations

While the above situations are for guide-dogs for persons with visual impairments these are not the only disabilities which can credibly request animal assistance. For instance some stress disorders may require a service animal to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace. Likewise some animals are useful for the early detections of panic attacks, strokes, or other situational triggers and can be a service animal.

Conflicting rights

This complicated case can also get into conflicting rights. An employer may have employees with severe allergies, or phobias, about animals. These allergies or phobias themselves might constitute a disability under Ontario law. Therefore the employer may have to attempt to balance each of the competing rights and their duties in order to find a reasonable balance as between employees.

While workplace decisions are up to the employer the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship is a heavy one and should be taken seriously.

Advice for Employers
While you may not encounter employees (potential or current) who are in need of a guide dog, it is important that you accommodate them to the point of undue hardship. If you are unsure whether a workplace policy may lead to a potential failure of this duty, or may be discriminatory towards employees requiring service animals, it is best to seek the advice of an Employment Lawyer. Contact Monkhouse Law today for a free consultation.

Advice for Employees
As a disabled individual requiring a service animal, you have a right to have that animal present with you in and out of your workplace. If your employer has constructively or wrongfully dismissed you based on this, or has failed to accommodate you in this regard, you may have a legal remedy available to you. Contact Monkhouse Law today for a free consultation to see how an Employment Lawyer can assist.