Once again a restaurant patron has been refused service as a result of being accompanied by a service animal. To make matters worse, the Police were called as a confrontation ensued.
Such foolish behaviour by restaurant workers and management is not uncommon. Most of the time people with disabilities do not report the incident making the number of real episodes far greater than those we see on the news feed.
The law is firm. The AODA (Accessibility for Ontarian’s with a Disability Act), Ontario Human Rights code, the Federal Human Rights code and the Ontario Blind Persons Act clearly spell out that a service animal has the same rights of entry as the owner. In a restaurant, that means a service animal may be in any area that a customer can go. The only exception to this is in a food preparation area however these areas are usually off limits to the public.
There are significant fines for failing to follow the law. $5,000 for breaking the Ontario Blind Persons Act and up to $25,000 for breaking the Human Rights code. It is vitally important that retail outlets, and particularly restaurants, have a solid policy around service animals and that the policy be part of a new hires training as well as being reviewed by all staff annually.
The law itself isn’t enough. Business must understand that the demographic of disability is massive and has a spending power of over $50B in Canada. This is growing very quickly indeed as the number of Canadians with disabilities grows from one in seven to one in five in only 8 years. Business must understand that they cannot afford to turn away people with disabilities only because they have a service animal. It is not only grotesque behaviour but it has serious implications to a companies bottom line.
Ignorance of the law cannot be used as a defence. It is therefore much more useful to embrace a policy of inclusion and ingrain this into the companies culture.
Unfortunately without a proper written policy in place there will still be instances where workers, through ignorance or otherwise will ask a patron with a service animal to leave. Hopefully management on shift will jump in and rectify this right away but if not it then becomes important for the restaurants owner or General manager to deal with this immediately.
Sadly in the recent past this is where things went from bad to worse where restaurant owners or corporate managers failed to see the urgency of a complaint. First, regardless of any incident, confrontation or exchange of bitterness the only issue is the refusal of service regardless of wether the customer lashes out, is rude or is otherwise out of line. The most senior manager or if franchised, the owner, must contact the customer as soon as possible, provide a heartfelt apology without reservation and explain the steps he/she intends to take to prevent a reoccurrence.
The steps taken must include the following, listen to the customers concern, termination of the employee with cause (as long as service animal policy indicates such, as it must), re-training of all staff around the need for inclusion and acceptance and finally “make it right” by asking the customer what works for them. Typically these steps will prevent any further action by the customer.
The first service animals were at work in 13000BC, they were domesticated wolves. Today in 2018 we need to do better.
Be direct. Be daring. Be bold.