Service Animals and Your Texas Startup
All businesses in Texas should be aware of Texas House Bill 489, or Bootz’s law. The law lists several conditions that entitle someone to enter a facility with a service dog. The list contains several invisible conditions and generally requires a business allow any dog represented as a service dog into their workplace. There are, however, penalties for anyone who misrepresents a dog as a service dog. This law covers almost every business place and you should speak directly with an attorney if you believe your place of business is not included. Your business is not entitled to ask or know anything about the human’s condition that is supported by bringing a service dog to your business.
The penalties for excluding a service dog are extreme and intended to penalize both the employee and employer who omit such a dog. Just to be clear, this is an employee training issue and a business can be punished when their employees exclude service dogs. Specifically, both the employer and the employee are subject to a class B misdemeanor AND assumed civil damages of $2,000.
It is important to know that absolutely any type of canine may be a service dog. This does mean chihuahuas, great danes, pit bulls, and mix breed dogs of any age or condition can all can be service dogs. The dogs do not need any particular identifier, such as a harness, indicating that it is a service dog. Further, the dogs do not need any particular type of training, so long as they are trained.
You and your employees can only ask two questions in Texas about a dog entering your workplace. They are:
Is that a service dog?
Is your service dog trained to perform certain tasks?
To recap, Texas employers should train their employees on the two questions they are allowed to ask of folks entering their workplace with dogs. They must allow any dog of any condition that is represented as a service dog into their facility but no other animals are covered. The penalties are steep and intended to punish employers and employees who inquire into the nature of the human’s condition or the dog’s training or omit service dogs.