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What is a service animal?

A service animal is an animal that provides assistance to an individual with a disability. The most common type of service animal is an assistance dog (eg a a guide dog for blind individuals or a hearing dog for deaf individuals). Assistance dogs carry out a variety of practical tasks for people and support their independence and confidence. 

Can an assistance dog be taken to work?

Employees who require an assistance dog should generally be allowed to bring their dog into the workplace with them. Employers may need to make adjustments around their workplace to ensure that it is suitable for the assistance dog. They may also need to allow flexibility so that the employee can care for the dog while at work.

If the employer fails to accommodate an assistance dog, this may be a breach of the Equality Act 2010’s restriction on subjecting anyone to unlawful detriment due to their status in relation to a protected characteristic (eg because they have a disability). For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination and Disability and reasonable adjustments.

Do business owners need to allow access to individuals with service animals?

Business owners should usually allow individuals and their assistance dogs access to their businesses. People with disabilities often rely on their assistance dogs to assist them with everyday tasks and may find it hard to navigate situations without them. 

Service animals should generally be allowed on a business’ premises even if the business usually has a ‘no dog’ or ‘no pet’ policy. Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their business’ policies to allow disabled people to access their business. Such reasonable adjustments may include making exceptions to any ‘no dog’ or ‘no pet’ policies to allow access for service animals.

If a business owner fails to provide access to individuals with an assistance dog, this may lead to breach of equality laws as for employers (above). There are certain situations in which excluding service dogs (and potentially, by extension, their users) may be justified. For example, to maintain others’ safety in certain hospital wards. 

For more information, read Assistance dogs and the Equality Act 2010.

What if the business sells food?

While the animals are generally not prohibited from premises that sell foods, certain hygiene requirements (especially those to do with food safety standards) must be adhered to. 

Food businesses are expected to take the presence of animals into account where this is pertinent to food safety. This is the case particularly for any room, such as a kitchen, where food is being handled openly. Businesses are responsible for ensuring their food safety management procedures identify and control risks posed to food hygiene. For example, they should have adequate procedures in place to prevent animals from having access to places where food is prepared, handled, or stored.

As assistance dogs are highly trained, have regular veterinary treatments, and are tested on a regular basis to make sure they don’t present a health risk, there is no conflict with food hygiene laws by their being present on food-serving premises in general. These dogs should be allowed access to such food businesses.

What if someone on the premises is allergic to animals? 

Refusing an assistance animal and their owner access to a business’ premises because someone may be allergic to the assistance dog is likely to amount to unlawful disability discrimination

If a specific person on the premises (eg another employee or visitor) has a known allergy to dogs (or another relevant animal), then a business manager or employer can and should take reasonable steps to make sure that that person has minimal (or no contact) with the dog or is otherwise protected. These reasonable steps are unlikely to include banning all assistance dogs from the premises entirely.

Can service animals be denied access to premises for cultural or religious reasons?

Access to premises (eg a workplace or business premises) should not be denied to individuals with assistance animals because of cultural or religious beliefs. Doing so can lead to unlawful discrimination, in the same manner as a general exclusion may (ie as set out above). 

How can a business owner ensure service animals are welcomed?

Customer-facing businesses may consider displaying a sign by their entrance (eg on the door) saying that assistance dogs are welcome. Relevant staff members should be made aware that access must be allowed to assistance dogs.

If anybody with an allergy to animals is regularly present on the premises (eg as a staff member), the business should consider how they can best ensure this individual’s health and safety. The business should be prepared to balance this individual’s needs against the rights of service animal users, to ensure safety while avoiding unlawful discrimination. Such considerations may be taken into account in workplace risk assessments

What about emotional support animals?

An emotional support animal is an animal that provides comfort to a person and minimises negative symptoms that they experience in relation to a health condition that isn’t a prescribed disability (ie a disability that enables the support animal to be legally considered an assistance dog or other assistance animal). 

For an animal to be classed as an emotional support animal for the purposes of various registration services (there is no official register), a licensed doctor or other licensed mental health professional needs to assess whether the animal is needed for health reasons and provide a letter to prove this.

Emotional support animals do not currently have the same legal rights as assistance dogs. This means that anyone with an emotional support animal may be refused access to a business. Additionally, employers do not always have to (but may choose to) accommodate employees with emotional support animals.

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