Many companies are looking for creative ways to recruit, incentivize and retain their employees. With this in mind, a growing number of employers are making the business decision to allow employees to bring their dogs to work. Such workplaces report several tangible benefits of a dog-friendly workplace, including lowered stress, increased camaraderie and an improvement in fostering an open and friendly work environment. A 2016 study by Banfield Pet Hospital found that 83% of employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to companies with dog-friendly policies. Although the benefits of a dog-friendly workplace are many, especially for dog-lovers, introducing even well-trained dogs to the workplace brings potential risks.
As anyone familiar with dogs knows, a dog lying in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a hazard and lead to safety issues. An otherwise even-tempered dog can become stressed and react in unpredictable ways. If such a dog injures an employee, it may trigger a workers’ compensation claim. If the dog injures a third party, such as a customer or service provider, the company could face a lawsuit alleging legal liability for related expenses that might include:
- Medical treatment
- Ongoing treatment for physical injuries
- Psychological counseling
- Pharmaceutical costs
- Loss of earnings from work
- Damaged clothing or other property
Commercial general liability insurance policies should be reviewed to ensure they defend and indemnify the business for legal liability associated with allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. While many insurance company loss control consultants don’t perceive dogs in the workplace as a significant exposure, underwriters report seeing a rise in severe injury claims, which can potentially lead to increased insurance rates. Allowing dogs on the premises can also increase the risk of property damage—whether damage to furniture, equipment, or personal property of other employees—and could potentially lead to claims alleging employment or other management-related liability.
Any workplace that allows employees the privilege of bringing their dogs to work should work with qualified employment counsel to walk through the risks, and draft an appropriate policy outlining expectations and requirements for those who bring in their dogs. A few suggestions for helping to ensure a smooth integration of dogs into the workplace include:
- Dogs should have a basic level of training, and should be friendly to humans and other dogs.
- Dogs should be clean and healthy.
- Employees should provide proof that their pet is up-to-date on shots and flea protection.
- Dogs should be housebroken and receive frequent breaks.
- Employees must dog-proof their workspace and clean up after dogs.
- Common areas should be dog-proofed and dogs should not be allowed to chew on furniture, cords, wires, etc.
- Dogs should be introduced slowly into the workplace, and introduced to current office dogs in a neutral area, perhaps while out for a walk and not in the office itself.
- If dogs are permitted in meeting rooms, they should not be allowed to cause distractions.
- No squeaky or distracting dog toys.
- Employees should sign a waiver and be responsible for any damage to equipment and property onsite, and be required to provide proof of liability insurance.
- Depending on the size and layout of the office, dogs can be leashed, and use of baby gates or crates can also be considered.
- Consider dog-free zones and immediately address employee complaints, address concerns regarding allergies, etc.
- Certain types of violations revoke privileges (i.e., barking, urination, aggressiveness towards other dogs or employees, etc.)
- Consider if certain breeds should be excluded (such as very large breeds like Great Danes). That said, be aware of potential issues arising from “dog breed discrimination” or other animal discrimination (i.e. If you allow dogs, you should also allow reptiles, birds, cats, etc.)
A few potential resources:
- The Humane Society of the United States’s step-by-step advice for creating a safe and dog-friendly environment: Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces
- Trupanion® offers resources and templates.
In the end, dog-friendly workplaces are not for everyone, but if done right, they can provide an increased level of flexibility that can be a valuable benefit to employees. It should also be noted that people who use service animals need special consideration due to protections under several different laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as individual state law— an important reason for legal counsel and HR to be consulted before issuing any policies. If you have any questions, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or your Woodruff Sawyer representative.