What are the laws about service animals that apply to my business?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.
Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person’s disability.
People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his or her service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. In these cases, the business should give the person with the disability the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises.
Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. However, a business is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself. Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.
Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties.