The feeling of helplessness and that she's being taken advantage of really irks her. "Where does that leave me?" she asked. "I don't have any rights."
Mel Clarrage, an employment advocate at the Disability Rights Center, assists people with disabilities to remove barriers in the workplace. He's also legally blind, and uses a service dog named Newton to help him navigate his environment.
Clarrage has never had any access issues himself when it comes to bringing his service animal into public areas like a restaurant, hotel or retail outlet. His disability is immediately apparent to people with whom he interacts, but to deal with those with less apparent disabilities, he suggests, is a matter of increased education. "It's an overall awareness and cultural education piece," he said. "There are a lot of disabilities that are not obvious when looking at a person, but it doesn't mean they're any less impairing and in need of accommodation."
Service animals in the workplace
When it comes to a service animal in the workplace, the Maine Human Rights Act is silent, according to Tarasevich at Bernstein Shur, and disability discrimination laws kick in.
"It doesn't specify animals in that section," Tarasevich said. "It only talks about nondiscrimination against people with disabilities and from there we have a whole body of law regarding reasonable accommodations -- and that's where it comes in for employers."
If an employee needs a service animal to perform the duties of the job, the employer needs to provide a "reasonable accommodation." However, an employer has freedom to ask more questions about the employee's disability and the need for the service animal than a business owner like Boivin has dealing with customers.
Tarasevich said it can get complicated when one employee requests a service animal while another employee is allergic to dogs or afraid of them. "We're dealing with a complicated, difficult and complex intersection of laws governing reasonable accommodation and service animals," he said. "I can say that there is a little bit of a hole here and it's a murky gray area, so some guidance would be helpful from the state of Maine, but so far there isn't any guidance."
In a case where a service animal would have an impact on or impair another employee's ability to work, Aiello said employers should communicate with both individuals and consider solutions such as moving employees to different parts of the building, designating different paths of movement, using air purifiers or instituting flexible work hours so the employees don't work at the same time. She recommends business owners with compliance questions contact the Job Accommodation Network, a program from the U.S. Department of Labor, or the New England ADA Center.
Clarrage at the Disability Rights Center said it's also about the approach of the employee who requests a service animal. He is cognizant of always keeping his black Lab, Newton, on a leash in the office. "He's out of the way; he's nonintrusive," he said.
He's only had a few cases where other employees or people at offices he's visited have had issues, and they were solved fairly easily. "I would like to think in most cases reasonable heads can come up with a good solution," Clarrage said. "And in times where that doesn't work, that's why we have some laws and access issues that have to be enforced."
A person with a disability, whether an employee or customer, can only be asked to remove their service animal if it creates an "undue hardship," according to Aiello. "So it really is a balanced law that looks at the needs of the employee with disabilities and considerations of a business to make sure there aren't undue hardships that are created."
According to the Maine Attorney General's office's policy on service animals in the workplace, "a service animal may be removed from the premises if it is a direct threat to the health or safety of others, if it would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others or if the animal substantially interferes with the work of the office."
In the end, Aiello said it benefits an employer to accommodate employees who need service animals in the workplace. "They're going to be retaining an employee more productive and more capable if they have the accommodations they need in the workplace," she said.
(c)2012 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
Visit the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) at www.bangordailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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