Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners almost anywhere an individual is permitted to go in order to perform their job as an aid.
In August of 2013, a legally blind man was asked to remove his dog from a store even after he explained and gave proof that it was a trained service animal. The resident filed a civil rights complaint and under the settlement, the store was required to train its employees about their legal obligations when dealing with service animals and provide them with related sensitivity training.
Seeking to prevent instances of disabled individuals being denied access to a store or other public place because of their accompanying service dog, the Assembly Law and Public Safety advanced a measure (A-218) on Monday to implement employee training.
Sponsors of the bill, Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Adam Taliaferro and Angela McKnight, intend for the legislation to educate employees about State and federal disability laws concerning patrons who travel with service or “guide” dogs and how to properly help them.
As defined by the ADA, a service animal means “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
“Unfortunately, some businesses remain unclear about state regulations protecting New Jersey’s disabled residents who require service dogs. These animals are not pets,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “This requirement would help clear up any confusion or misinformation out there on the treatment of service animals in public places.”
Training required by the bill would apply to employers with one or more employees serving customers and others in a place of public accommodation or other public facility.
“Unlike a companion or therapy animal, service animals provide much more than comfort to their owner. They help owners mitigate the impediments of a disability enabling them to be independent,” said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem). “By training and teaching employees how to handle situations in which service dogs are involved, we protect the rights of individuals who are disabled to have their guide dog wherever they go.”
“Service animals are the eyes, the ears and ultimately life line for many disabled individuals in our State,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “From those who have suffered a physical injury, are blind or deaf to those who suffer from seizures or have anxiety and PTSD, these dogs are critical in assisting with everyday tasks as well as in providing support in medical emergencies. Educating employees helps ensure that nothing stands in the way of a service animal doing its job.”
An employer may satisfy the training requirement by utilizing a training program from the Division on Civil Rights within the Department of Law and Public Safety, the New Jersey State Bar Association, or any other entity.
The bill goes to the Speaker for further consideration.