Assistance Dogs as Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled People Working in Police and Justice Services

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2015 Police & Justice Service Group Conference
18 June 2015

UNISON’s disabled members are aware of their right under employment and occupation provisions within the Equality Act to request reasonable adjustments that will assist them to remain in the workforce. Recent reports however advise that some employers do not understand that assistance dogs can be a legitimate reasonable adjustment and in doing so lose the remedy to barriers faced by some disabled people in the workplace. Whilst police and justice members might actively support organisations that fund-raise to train assistance dogs to support disabled people who are visually impaired, those who are Deaf (first/preferred sign language users), people who are hard of hearing or those who require support of a physical nature etc, there is very little information available to disabled people themselves, employers or trade union activists about the role that assistance dogs can play in the workplace to remove barriers to work.

Assistance dogs are trained to the same high standard as guide dogs that support visually impaired people. They are evaluated from the first few weeks of their lives and this evaluation continues throughout the rigorous training programme they undergo and throughout their assignment to provide assistance to the disabled person. However, assistance dogs are not as common-place in the workplace as guide dogs and both employers and fellow employees can be ignorant of their value. There is little advice or guidance available about how an employer should go about preparing the workplace or staff for the arrival of an assistance dog and how to overcome misconceptions and ignorance.

Lack of information about the role of assistance dogs as a reasonable adjustment can lead to delays in implementing enabling facilities and cause a disabled worker to lose out on career development opportunities. Often disabled people themselves are expected to learn everything about the potential adjustment and to educate the employer about their new form of assistance. Dealing with other staff members’ concerns and fears may also be left for the disabled person to deal with. This can include challenging spurious arguments about health and safety risks to other workers and risks to the public where front line jobs are concerned, which should be the role of the employer.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Police and Justice Service Group to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Consult with regional police and justice service and disabled members’ regional groups for advice on experience of negotiating agreements that include the provision of assistance dogs as a reasonable adjustment in accordance with the Equality Act.

2)Consult with appropriate dog training organisations with a view to developing guidance for UNISON Police and Justice branches

3)Offer the guidance to the TUC to share among its affiliated unions.

4)Request the Department for Work and Pension and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service produce guidance on Assistance Dogs as a reasonable adjustment.