Can you bring a dog to work?
This is a topic which I am being asked to talk about a lot recently. I was quoted in the i-paper and now I’ve been interviewed for Radio 4’s You and Yours programme. Although this is a topic I have been talking about for years, usually on ‘International bring your dog to work day’, in the last few months, the interest has grown. As people are heading back to the office, they are beginning to think about the practicalities of doggy day care.
You can read some of my previous blogs using the links below
Has your workplace gone to the dogs? November 2015
Barking mad? April 2017
Anxiety, May 2021
I am what is known as a cynophobic, which means that I have a phobia of dogs. It’s got a lot better over the years and I’m able to control it a lot more than I used to be able to, but there are still situations where if something happens when I can’t see the dog, if the dog is out of control or there’s a dog barking or jumping, then I’m not okay …… at all.
When I was two years old, I was knocked over by an Alsatian puppy that wanted to play, but I was only two years old and I had pigtails and it knocked me over, stood on my pigtails, and licked me. And that was the first incident. But then I’ve also had several others over the years, where I’ve been chased by a Doberman, had a Collie dog thrown at me, been scratched really badly all the way down my front by Yorkshire Terrier and been cornered by a Airedale. So my phobia has developed and become embedded as a result of a number of incidents, over a period of many years.
A phobia is classified as anxiety, but it is a very specific anxiety with its own specific trigger.
Ask me to deal with any first aid situation, ask me to pick up a snake and remove it off the path or get birds out of the house or toads or creepy crawlies, and I’m fine. Anything that normally freaks other people out, doesn’t bother me at all. Me and dogs not so good!
Is it up to an individual if they want to bring their dog to work?
The first thing to bear in mind is that there is no legal requirement for employers to allow dogs into the Workplace. It is not up to an individual to unilaterally decide they are bringing their dog to work.
It’s going to be up to every single employer to make a decision about what’s right for their business and that may be determined by their environment. There may be particular rules for example, in a kitchen environment or in a food preparation area, they wouldn’t be allowed to have dogs there for health and safety reasons. If, for example, you’ve got a canteen at work, the chances are you wouldn’t be allowed to take the dog into the canteen.
Not all workplaces are offices and very few people would challenge a rule which stated that you can’t bring your dog to work in a factory, a high street shop, a warehouse or a restaurant, but for some reason people view offices differently.
The issue of whether to allow a dog in the workplace is very much a balancing act. It’s about balancing the needs of those who want their dogs in the office, with the needs of those who really don’t care, against the needs of those who are really against it. Some of the reasons people will be against dogs at work include the disruption, a phobia or perhaps an allergy.
If one dog is in the office, it may not be too difficult to manage, but if several dogs are in the office, this can cause a lot of disruption. However, if the owner is in a meeting and the dog needs a bio break, who will take the dog outside? If two dogs get into an ‘argument’ about a toy or a sleeping area etc. this can be disruptive. If the dog is moving around the office and someone trips over it, is that the owners responsibility or the company’s? If the dog makes a mess in the office, it needs to be properly cleaned up.
There are some people who are very very allergic to animals, like those who are allergic to certain food products. A lot of environments are now nut free as a result of some horrible cases in which people have died as a result of their allergy and actually a dog allergy is an extension of that.
Health and Safety
Deciding whether to allow dogs into the office needs to be done with extreme care and proper consideration. There would need to be a proper risk assessment carried out, as health and safety is just one element which needs to be considered.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not just your current workforce, but it could be your future workforce as well. In terms of your current workforce, open communication is absolutely essential. If you are a large organisation or have trade unions, you must consult with staff or their representatives. If you’re a smaller organisation, it may be that you have weekly or monthly initiatives where you get ideas, discuss suggestions and get feedback. You might have a staff committee who would be involved in new office initiatives. You may test ideas as part of a mental health wellbeing survey or employee engagement survey. Different organisations will have different mechanisms, but it’s important that everybody’s views are taken into consideration.
Unfortunately, it’s not really one of those things where you can necessarily go with the majority, because if you’ve got somebody who’s highly allergic or cynophobic, you’re potentially saying to those employees, if we allow dogs, we’re forcing you to work from home, or putting you in a potentially untenable position. Potentially the decision to allow dogs in the office isolates impacted employees and / or discriminates against them.
In both cases, the employee may have a case for a disability discrimination claim. Somebody could take a case to stating, “you (the employer) introduced a policy where you allowed dogs into the office. I’d made you aware of my phobia or allergy. I presented you with medical reports as evidence to support why I was against this policy. And you went ahead anyway. The result of that is that I can’t come into the office or you have isolated me in my own office. I can’t take part in team activities. My promotion opportunities have been reduced.”
What then happens if the person bringing the dog into work is the Managing Director?
Potentially the employee is in a very, very difficult situation where they have to take a decision, whether to stay or to leave; and they could then have a case for constructive dismissal. So both from an allergy perspective, i.e. if someone is anaphylactic based on a dog allergy or a dog fur allergy, or if somebody has a phobia, which is classed as an anxiety, they could have grounds for an employment tribunal case.
Why allow people to bring their dogs to work if it is such a risk?
A lot of people want to be able to bring their dogs into work. Dogs (and other pets) are proven to have a calming effect and can promote good mental health and wellbeing. People who have purchased dogs in lockdown don’t now want to leave them at home and dog walkers are charging a fortune for dog care in response to supply and demand. If you want people to come into the office, you MAY want / need to allow them to bring their dog – but you don’t have to!
Policies and Procedures
If you do decide to allow dogs in the office, you must have a proper policy in place. You may want to decide on a maximum number which can be in at any one time. You may want to consider introduction days. You may need to introduce procedures to ensure you know which dogs are in and where. You will also need risk assessments.
I’ve been in an office where I’ve tripped up over a dog which was running around. I’ve also been in another office where the dog was quite poorly, which is why the owner had brought the dog into work in the first place, but the dog made a mess all over the carpet in a client meeting room.
Can you turn around to somebody and say, “Actually we can have that dog in because they’re well behaved, but we won’t allow your dog because your dog is not so well trained?”
One consideration which must be taken into account is who is liable for the dog while it is at work and what happens if there is an incident or accident involving the dog. Examples may include someone falling over the dog, the dog breaking something (perhaps with the swipe of a powerful tail or just in moving around the office and knocking something over), or the dog biting someone. As you will hear after my interview on You and Yours, someone contacted the programme to say they had been bitten by a dog in the office and was injured so badly they had to go to hospital. In this instance, they have had an accident at work and it is reportable to the Health and Safety Executive. Who is liable? The employee who brought the dog into work, or the company for allowing dogs in the office. As an employer allowing dogs into the workplace, you may need to get employees to sign a waiver taking full responsibility for their dog and to demonstrate they have adequate insurance in the event of an incident.
If you are going to allow dogs into your workplace, it is strongly advised that you discuss your liabilities with your insurance company to ensure you have adequate cover in the event of a claim against the business.
We are already hearing of people wanting to take pawternity leave when they get a new pet and compassionate leave when a pet passes away. Each company will need to decide where they stand on each of these issues and ensure they communicate clearly with all staff, keeping a consistent approach for all pet related employee issues.
Just because other businesses are allowing dogs into the workplace doesn’t mean you have to. If you are going to turn your office into a dog friendly environment, you need to consider your current and future employees as well as your policies and procedures, insurances and liabilities.