What laws pertain and what happens when they're broken?
What laws pertain to Assistance Dogs?
The main law that most assistance dogs work under is the Federal Law. There are various state laws that differ from state to state and some offer more or less protections and/or limitations. Where there is an inconsistency between federal and state law, federal law supersedes state law to the extent of the inconsistency.
What happens when the law is broken?
Having access challenges is a normal part of using an Assistance Dog. For all the education we do, and the training that we believe employers and employees of the businesses and services we use should get, the fact of the matter is we are still going to run in to people in positions of power or authority that are ignorant about the law or even worse, in some cases wilfully disregard it anyway.
Thankfully Assistance Dog handlers have recourse to take action when they are denied access or services as a result of disability discrimination. While there is recourse available the process is not immediate. To resolve an immediate access challenge education is a handler's best defence. If education does not work your next step is to identify which law has been broken. Usually an access denial breaks both state and federal laws. Most states have an Equal Opportunity Act that will cover disability discrimination and if you choose to pursue action under the state law you need to contact the relevant state body and the procedure to lodge a complaint of discrimination under that Act.
Please Don't Pat Me Australia can also offer handlers advocacy assistance when dealing with access challenges. The volunteers at Please Don't Pat Me Australia are experienced with dealing with access challenges and are usually able to resolve them with education. When education fails a Please Don't Pat Me Australia volunteer will help you with the process of lodging a disability discrimination complaint with the relevant authorities.
Lodging a complaint under Federal Law
In the case that a Federal Law has been broken, a handler may contact the Human Rights Commission and lodge a complaint. The Commission does not have the power to decide if unlawful discrimination has happened and can close a case if there is no reasonable expectation of conciliation.
The Australian Human Rights Commission can investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying based on a person’s disability.
It is against the law to be discriminated against in many areas of public life, including employment, education, the provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, sport and the administration of Commonwealth laws and services.
Complaints to the Commission are resolved through a process known as conciliation. This is where the people involved in a complaint talk through the issues with the help of someone impartial and settle the matter on their own terms.
Conciliation is a very successful way of resolving complaints. Feedback shows that most people find our process fair, informal and easy to understand. It also helps them to better understand the issues and come up with solutions that are appropriate to their circumstances.
Complaint outcomes can include an apology, reinstatement to a job, compensation for lost wages, changes to a policy or developing and promoting anti-discrimination policies.
Complaints must be made in writing or by email.
What happens if my complaint is not settled at the Human Right Commission?
If your complaint is not resolved by the Commission or is discontinued for some other reason, you can take the matter to court. The court can decide if unlawful discrimination has happened. You have 60 days from when the Commission finalises the complaint to make an application to the Federal Circuit Court or the Federal Court of Australia. The Commission cannot take the matter to court for you or help you present your case in court. Conciliation is usually, but not always successful. You may need to talk with a lawyer or legal service if you want to go to court as this is a long and potentially expensive process.
More information about taking a complaint to the Federal Court
can be found at the Federal Court website.