Assistance dogs – a disabled person’s best friend

An assistance dog is a dog that has been trained to assist a person with a specific disability and that has been accredited by one of the five organisations registered as a member of Assistance Dogs (UK). The five organisations are:

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Support Dogs

Dogs for the Disabled

Canine Partners.

Assistance dogs support people with a wide range of disabilities, including those relating to visual, hearing or mobility impairments and conditions – for example, epilepsy or autism.

Assistance dogs trained by members of Assistance Dogs (UK) have formal identification tags and are allowed to accompany their owners at all times and in all places within the UK (unless there is a genuine health and safety risk). Certification is granted by the Department of Health.

Assistance dogs are fully trained working animals, not pets, and their owners rely on them for independence and mobility. Assistance dog owners will have received full training on how to manage their dog. The working life of an assistance dog is about six years, so an owner could have several dogs during their lifetime.

Policy principles

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), the admittance of assistance dogs could be a reasonable adjustment for disabled staff. The employer will give appropriate consideration to requests for dogs to be accommodated in the workplace.

The employer will undertake an impartial and objective assessment of the suitability of an assistance dog to an employee’s role and workplace, seeking advice from assistance dog associations.

If the employer agrees to the employee’s request to accommodate an assistance dog, the employer will make subsequent arrangements to enable the effective use of the dog in the workplace, including allowing the employee to have reasonable time off for training the dog, taking the dog for veterinary checks, and agreeing to accommodate check-ups by the dog’s training association.

Training for both employee and dog may be provided by the assistance dog association and consideration will be given to supporting reasonable and proportionate leave requirements for this. New dog owners will be allowed time to familiarise their dog with the workplace.

Health and safety procedures

A risk assessment will be conducted before the assistance dog accompanies the employee to work for the first time and regularly thereafter. This will be conducted by the line manager, in conjunction with the employee, to cover assistance dog-related aspects – for example, emergency evacuation procedures, dog toileting, and any health and safety or hygiene considerations pertinent to the workplace. Consideration may also be given to implications for any staff who will be located near the dog. Advice should be sought from HR or the health and safety, premises or facilities departments.

Medical emergency planning will take place between the line manager and employee to cover procedures to be followed should the employee be taken ill at work. For example, if the employee is rushed to hospital leaving the assistance dog at the workplace, family, friends or the assistance dog association may offer support. Contact numbers should be kept readily available in these situations.

Emergency evacuation procedures will be established and practised for the employee and assistance dog, with any new or revised considerations built into personal emergency evacuation plans. This should cover scenarios where the employee is both with and without their assistance dog, and will lay down procedures for the safety of both employee and animal. Workplace familiarisation for assistance dogs should include emergency evacuation routes. Any appointed fire marshals should be aware of the presence and needs of the assistance dog and employee.

Toilet requirements will be established in consultation with the employee, with advice from the facilities department. Toilet arrangements may be on or off the employer’s premises. Safe and appropriate access routes should be wide enough to allow the dog and employee to walk together to the toilet area and meet accessibility standards. Disposal facilities should also be clarified and agreements made regarding who will be responsible for each stage of the disposal.

Responsibilities

All responsibilities should be clarified before the assistance dog accompanies the employee to work. The following are outline responsibilities for each group:

Employee:

  • Ensuring that the assistance dog meets all standards for training, health and grooming at all times (standards as set by the assistance dog association).
  • Applying appropriate control, praise and discipline to the dog as required, to maximise support and minimise any workplace disruption.
  • Providing necessary equipment for the dog’s wellbeing – for example, a blanket or bed, water bowl and toys.
  • Managing toilet breaks for the dog and water provision as required.
  • Being considerate to the needs of others in relation to the presence of the dog.
  • Ensuring that, while working, the dog wears a jacket, harness or tabard to indicate that it is on duty. When not working, the jacket, harness or tabard should be removed, as this will indicate to the assistance dog and others that it is not working.

Co-workers:

  • Taking instruction from the employee in relation to contact and approach to the animal. It is inappropriate to stroke, feed or otherwise engage with the dog unless the employee has given permission.
  • Addressing the employee rather than the dog and limiting contact with, and distractions for, the animal.
  • Following the principles within this policy and raising concerns relating to its implementation, if required.

Line manager:

  • Providing a suitable and safe location for the dog, close to the employee’s workstation if possible. The location should be draught-free, of suitable temperature, and away from machinery, light or noise that may cause disruption to the dog.
  • Facilitating toilet and other wellbeing breaks as required, and generally providing a welcoming environment for the employee and assistance dog.
  • Providing appropriate levels of time off for aspects such as dog training and veterinary visits, and accommodating visits from assistance dog associations.
  • Communicating with all affected staff ahead of the dog’s arrival, to help successful integration and create an inclusive workplace culture for everyone. However, care should be taken to respect the employee’s confidentiality needs, particularly if the disabilities or health conditions that the assistance dog supports are non-visible.

Workplace considerations

Allergies: If colleagues in the workplace have allergies or conditions – for example, asthma – that may be affected by a dog being nearby, local discussion should take place to find the best way to accommodate all needs. Advice can be sought from assistance dog associations in conjunction with HR, should any difficulties be perceived in locating a dog and colleagues near each other.

Religion and belief : If colleagues raise objections on religious grounds to the presence of an assistance dog, these should be duly considered and managed locally. It is unlikely that an objection on religious grounds will be sufficient justification to not approve an assistance dog request, in accordance with the justification defence set out in the DDA. Should the need arise, further advice should be sought from organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with assistance dog associations and HR.

Law relating to this document

Leading statutory authority Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

  • Under the DDA, disability discrimination occurs where a disabled person is treated less favourably on the ground of his or her disability, or is treated less favourably for a reason relating to his or her disability and that treatment is not justified, or where the employer has failed to make reasonable adjustments.
  • The duty to make reasonable adjustments arises where a provision, criterion or practice applied by or on behalf of an employer, or any physical feature of premises occupied by the employer, places the disabled person concerned at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled.
  • The employer should take such steps as are reasonable, in all the circumstances, to prevent the provision, criterion or practice, or feature from having that effect.
  • Assistance dogs should be accommodated where this is a reasonable and proportionate means of removing the barriers that place a disabled person at a disadvantage.
  • Most assistance dog associations want to ensure that the work location and work type is suitable for the assistance dog and employee, recognising that this is in the best interests of all parties. Employers should accommodate visits from the assistance dog association for this purpose.
  • Many industry bodies have established positions on assistance dogs that may be of help in drafting sector-specific policies. For example, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health recommends that assistance dogs be exempt from ‘no dogs’ policies.
  • In relation to toilet breaks, legislation exempts people who rely on assistance dogs from the responsibility of removing their dog’s waste from public places.
  • Assistance dogs are normally insured through their assistance dog association for any third-party incidents. Employers should check with the appropriate organisation.
  • Assistance Dogs (UK) has established codes of practice for working dogs, so should be consulted for guidance on issues relating to assistance dogs.

Advice from the Employers’ Forum on Disability (EFD)

The scenarios below are based on queries to EFD’s Disability Directions information service, which gives EFD members practical advice and expert advice on disability, employment and customers.

An employee who uses a guide dog will be working in a new open-plan office. Another employee has approached us and said that he has an allergy to dogs.

As an employer, you may have obligations under the DDA towards both employees, and you will need to find a way of accommodating both.

Talk to the employee with the allergy to find out exactly how they are affected. Is it an issue if they come into physical contact with the dog, or just if they’re in the same room? It may be that you will need to change seating plans or work patterns to accommodate both parties. You will need to investigate the impact that moving locations would have on each employee and their ability to perform their job.

We are recruiting for someone to work in a supermarket. One candidate has performed very well at interview, but they use an assistance dog. The recruiting manager has concerns about the health and safety implications of having an animal in a store that sells food. He is also worried about the reactions of customers.

Fears about health and safety are misplaced in this case. Assistance animals are highly trained. If the employee is the best person for the job then they should be offered the position.

You may need to consider training for colleagues so they know how to interact with the dog (for example, don’t treat it like a pet), and you may need to allocate a manager to deal with any customer concerns. This manager would need to be able to explain all of this to customers if they question why the dog is in the store.

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