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Yesterday this post made national news, and many guide dog users praised the city of Calgary and/or the cab company for firing this driver. Having seen (though not truly experienced) this situation many times, I’m not sure I am completely comfortable with this resolution…

 

The situation is not unfamiliar to many guide dog users: a taxi driver, store clerk, mall security officer refused access to a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog. In this case, the whole incident was captured on camera, and the driver was fined $750 and lost his job for refusing access. Such incidents are not uncommon, but appear to be less common than they used to be (according to many long-time guide dog handlers I know). According to the Alberta Service Dogs Act, the financial penalty is within the limit of the law. But human resources decisions are made by companies, and I wish them to reconsider their stance on firing employees who for the first time refuse service to passengers or customers with service dogs.

 

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the implications. An employee has represented your company badly and clearly broken the law. The provincial government’s financial penalty should have teeth, but making this a job-costing offense doesn’t serve your company or the employee who is fired, nor does it in the long run serve those who rely on service dogs. Such swift action tells the employee that his actions were wrong, but it doesn’t give them an understanding of why it’s wrong. I also firmly believe that it doesn’t give other employees an opportunity to learn from the experience, except for sending the message that “they need to provide service or lose their job.

 

I propose a different remedy:

  1. The financial penalty as outlined by Alberta law.
  2. A written reprimand in the employee file. If the employee in this case is licensed by the city, the city should receive a copy of such a reprimand.
  3. A probationary period (the length of which is at the discretion of the employer/city); If the access refusal happens again, THEN fire them. At least in that instance, they can’t say in any certain terms they didn’t know.
  4. Strongly encourage such employees to volunteer with service dog organizations. I firmly believe that many of these instances are based on a lack of education on what these dogs do. Their presence can provide a disabled person a degree of dignity that refusing access strips away. Maintaining volunteer relationships with service dog organizations may provide an opportunity for service providers to learn first-hand the work that’s involved in training these dogs.

 

This does not address the very real concern of allergies, because such an issue has already been addressed. It is made very clear that if someone is allergic to dogs, reliable documentation must be provided to the employer, and all efforts must be made for the safety and access of both the disabled person accompanied by a service dog and the employee or service provider with allergies. The above suggestions are for employees who for the first time refuse service to a service dog team.

 

In no way am I saying that such behavior is acceptable; I am simply saying that education goes a lot further than lowering a hammer. If an employer wishes to fire an employee for breaking the law and representing their name badly, that is their decision. But please don’t do it in my name.

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