Should employers allow pets in the workplace?

During the pandemic, more people than ever before have worked from home. That can be a lonely occupation, so to counter the feelings of isolation, thousands more have added a new member of the family to the household – a new dog. When you’re working from home having a dog isn’t a problem. You’re there to feed them, walk them, and let them out to do their ‘business’ whenever they need.  

But now the workforce is slowly getting back into the office, what happens to the dog? Should you simply leave Rex at home all day and hope he doesn’t destroy the new sofa, or should you take him to work with you? And should employers allow pets in the workplace? 

Assistance dogs 

Firstly, let’s deal with the matter of assistance dogs. These are dogs that are specially trained to help their owner deal with disabilities, such as guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and seizure alert dogs for those with epilepsy or NEAD. However, assistance dogs are now used in a much wider range of roles, including support dogs for those suffering from PTSD or severe anxiety and other mental health issues. 

These dogs are usually highly trained and specially chosen for their placid personalities and ability to cope with any situation. It is also illegal for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person who relies on an assistance dog. It is the employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled employees, including making arrangements to make the working environment safe for registered service dogs.  

Guide dogs and other registered assistance dogs are exempt from the rules that prevent dogs from entering restaurants and other food premises, for example. Because of their training, they are highly unlikely to be a threat to public health or pose a risk to hygiene. 

Non-service dogs 

For service dogs, the rules are pretty clear. But for pets, it’s a different matter. If the only reason you want to take your pet to work is that you don’t want to leave them on their own at home, then your employer is not obligated to make any special arrangements to cater to your wishes. This is particularly true in environments that are not safe for animals, such as factories or workshops.  

However, if an employee has approached their employer to ask if they may bring their dog to work and the employer is open to the suggestion, there is still the employer’s duty of care to everyone within the working environment to consider. 

The opening move is to contact everyone in the office to tell them of the plans to allow dogs to join their owners in the workplace. This gives the employer a chance to find out if anyone has an allergy to dogs that could trigger an asthma attack, for example, or those who are extremely nervous of dogs. If the responses given are positive, then it may be an idea to set up an assessment system that is included in company policy. For example, Nestlé has included dogs in their wellness strategy, as having animals in the office has been shown to reduce stress levels.  

Checks and balances 

Before any pup does the office strut, there are strict checks and balances to make sure they are well behaved around people (and other dogs), are healthy, and are comfortable within the workplace environment. If dogs pass all the tests they are then given a ‘probation period to ensure they settle into the workplace routine without causing any issues. 

It’s up to the employer 

All through this process, it is the owner who is responsible for the behaviour of the dog. The employer has every right to withdraw permission if they feel things are getting out of hand or that the presence of a dog is causing a disruption. Unless that dog is a registered assistance dog that is specifically trained to help a disabled person, then the employer has the right to change their mind and bring in a ‘no dogs’ policy. 

As long as clear policy guidelines are laid out from the start, it is perfectly possible to have dogs in some workplace environments. If, as an employer, you are still not sure how well it would work, why not test the water with a one-off ‘Bring your dog to work Day’? As long as nobody has any major objections on the grounds of health or a phobia of dogs then this could be a positive step towards introducing them gradually into the workplace.  

Throughout, it’s important to remember that the duty of care extends to everyone. If you’re still not sure about the implications of allowing dogs in the workplace, talk to an employment law expert for more in-depth advice.