Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals What NJ Businesses Should Know
By Chakeema Cruickshank, Staff Writer
Dogs and other furry companions are loveable creatures that are capable of many things. They can provide companionship, joy, and become beloved family members. Beyond that, dogs and other pets can be trained as service animals to provide assistance to people with disabilities.
A service animal, usually a dog, is individually trained to perform tasks to help assist their owner and allow them to live a more independent life. For example, a guide dog helps visually impaired individuals navigate their surroundings. For those hard of hearing, a hearing dog can alert an individual to noises. Also mobility dogs can be used to assist those that use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) is a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, and other protected characteristics. With the LAD in place, these laws apply to employment and also places of public accommodation. This includes businesses, schools, hotels, and restaurants for example. As such, individuals with disabilities are protected against discrimination and that includes their service animals.
The LAD defines “service dog” as any dog individually trained to the requirements of a person with a disability. Such dogs may be trained to perform minimal protection work or tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, or alerting or assisting a person with epilepsy or another seizure disorder.
Furthermore, lawmakers in NJ want to make sure everyone knows that service animals are allowed to go wherever their owners go. The Legislature addresses this with Bill A862. This law concerns training employees at public accommodations on access for individuals with service animals. If this legislation is signed into law, the Department of Labor and Workplace Development will create an information pamphlet for employees to sign. Moreover, the Division of Civil Rights and the New Jersey State Bar Association are required to create training on service animals and procedures to follow. This training would not come at any cost to employers.
Similar to state protections, there is also protection for service animals under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Under the ADA, service animals must be trained accordingly to provide the assistance required. In some special circumstances, miniature horses may also qualify under the ADA’s definition of a service animal. With the ADA and LAD protections, owners can bring their service animals with them virtually everywhere.
For NJ Businesses:
Service animals are permitted to be in places of public accommodation with their owner. Therefore, it is important for employers to make sure that their employees are fully informed on procedures and policies under the Laws Against Discrimination (LAD). This includes people with disabilities and their right to have their service animal with them. Under NJ law and the ADA, public accommodations are defined broadly. They can include, but are not limited to:
- Hotels, motels, and other lodging establishments
- Restaurants and places that serve food
- Public transportation
- Recreational facilities
- Educational institutions
That being said, there are some rules that must be followed by those that are using a service animal. First, an individual using a service animal must keep the animal in their custody at all times. In addition, businesses cannot charge extra for hosting a service dog. This includes charges at restaurants and other public accommodations such as hotels. However, if a service animal causes damages, the individual owner will be held liable for any costs. Lastly, a place of public accommodation has the right to exclude a service animal if they are posing a threat to the safety or health of others.
It is important for business owners to be aware of these regulations and laws. As demonstrated, service animals are more than just pets and companions, they work hard to provide assistance to those with disabilities. By making sure New Jersey employers are informed on the laws surrounding service animals, we can increase access and equity for people with disabilities.
Staff Writer Chakeema Cruickshank is currently a first year at Rutgers Law School Camden. Prior to Rutgers Law, she worked for United States Senator Robert Menendez doing constituent relations and outreach for education, environment, and technology.