Ask the ExpertCategory: QuestionsPets in the Workplace policy in Ontario and allergy accommodations. Whose need wins?
hri_Admin Staff asked 3 years ago

Several of our employees and some of our members of the public want to begin bringing their pets to work, mainly dogs for stress release and comfort. No one has a service animal. One employee has already brought a furry friend in unannounced for the day without any incident. Now other employees want to. We have a mid-sized head office and several small work locations in Toronto. We have one employee who is not keen on this due to a slight fear of dogs. We also have a member in our co-working space who has told us they are highly allergic and that they would need to end their membership if and when we become pet-friendly. We have offered to find a way to accommodate but the member explained that it is a server dander allergy and they simply can’t be where dogs are regularly present for health reasons. What risks do you see here under AODA and Human Rights and what suggestions do you have to balance the needs of pet lovers with the phobias and allergies of other people in the workplace?

2 Answers
Glenn Demby Staff answered 3 years ago

Wow, there’s a lot going on here.
First, you recognize that accommodating disabilities may require exemptions from a no-pets policy. Starting point is that employee must actually have a disability. You have the right to request documentation confirming the disability, e.g., a doctor’s note.
Next comes the question of the dog. The AODA applies to a guide dog or “service animal” and person requesting accommodation must provide a letter from a qualified “regulated health professional” confirming the animal is a service animal. But Ontario human rights law is much broader and applies to a “guide dog or OTHER ANIMAL.” No confirmation required. So if your employees can document their disabilities, they may be entitled to bring their dogs even if they’re not certified service animals.
Now comes the tricky part. Accommodations must be reasonable and not impose undue hardship. And Employee A’s reasonable accommodation may be allergic Employee B’s hardship. In this situation, you can’t pick sides. Instead, you have to BALANCE the needs of both the individuals involved, e.g., let A have the dog but require her to stay X distance from Employee B.
Couple of final points: 1. Employees without disabilities don’t get to bring their pets just because a disabled co-worker can; and 2. The fact that “everybody will want to bring their dog to work” is NOT undue hardship justifying refusal to accommodate a guide dog or service animal.
Hope you got all that. Good luck and feel free to follow up. Glenn

Tanya Sinclair replied 2 years ago

This is very helpful. Now I have to look at accommodating the other way now around. I several dog lovers who want a pet-friendly policy to bring their pets but none have disabilities versus two people who are imploring us not to allow pets in the workplace because they have a serious dog allergy. One is an employer who is bringing in a medical letter. The other is a paid member and not an employee and will not bring in any Dr note.

Glenn Demby Staff answered 2 years ago

You can make your life easier by implementing a standard no-pets policy, subject to accommodations for employees with disabilities. The moment you allow everybody to have dogs, you subject yourself to legal claims from the employees with allergies. But if you do go the latter route and are prepared to accommodate the allergic employees, you have the right to insist they provide a doctor’s note or other verification of the disability/allergy and their need for accommodation. At the end of the day, you really need to weigh the advantages of letting people bring dogs to work and whether it’s worth all the hassles. Hope that helps. Fun conversation. Glenn