Research conducted by the Kennel Club revealed that 70% of people surveyed said dogs alleviate stress in the workplace and 45% said that dogs in the workplace make companies more attractive to job seekers with dogs. It is no surprise then that, since the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of employers who allow their employees to bring their dogs into work.
Howes Percival’s health and safety specialists have been giving some thought to what this means for employers and their duties under health and safety law.
Employer’s health and safety duties
There is no dedicated law which deals with having pet dogs in the workplace however employers should be mindful of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (the “Act”) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Under the Act employers have a general duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees so far as is reasonably practicable, whilst they are at work. Employers also have a duty to ensure that they go about all aspects of their business and work in a way which ensures those not in their employment are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
What does this mean in the context of bringing pet dogs into the workplace?
Whilst having a well behaved and well-mannered dog in the workplace may prove to be a good stress reliever and boost staff morale, there are also some potential disadvantages that employers will need to consider before deciding whether or not to allow pet dogs in the workplace.
There are some settings where it will be inappropriate to have a dog (or other animal) for example, in food preparation businesses or settings where there is a higher risk of infection or cross - contamination. In order to comply with their duties under health and safety law employers must first assess the risks posed by dogs in the workplace.
We’ve set out below some key risks that employers will need to consider:
- Dog bites and other injuries – dogs behave differently depending on the environment they are in and may act unpredictably in unfamiliar places around unfamiliar people. Even ‘good dogs’ can bite if they feel vulnerable or threatened so it is important to ensure that measures are put in place to reduce this risk. People may also be injured by the dog jumping up and scratching them;
- Slips, trips and falls – careful thought will need to be given to where the dog will stay during the working day, where it will sleep, eat, drink and toilet. To avoid causing a trip hazard make sure that all toys are kept in the dog’s bed or a designated area and ensure that any spills from its water bowl, or any ‘little accidents’ are cleaned up immediately;
- Fire and emergency – it is important that dogs and their belongings are not in the way of any fire exits or firefighting equipment. There will need to be a plan setting out how the dog will vacate the workplace in case of emergency. It is important that employees and other people are not put at risk because the dog is blocking an exit route or trailing around people’s ankles whilst they are trying to escape in an emergency;
- Allergies – consider whether anyone in the office is allergic to dogs. If so, how can this be managed? Perhaps there could designated ‘dog free’ zones or a policy to only allow the dog in to the office on days when the person allergic to them isn’t in;
- Dog fights – dog fights can put dogs and their owners at risk of serious injury. To avoid the risk of fights, thought will need to be given to how many dogs will be allowed in the office at any one time and how negative interactions will be avoided and managed. You will also need to consider the temperament of each dog coming into the workplace;
- Fleas and ticks – ensure all dogs are up to date on their flea, tick and worm treatment to avoid the spread to other dogs (and humans);
- Vulnerable employees – is there anyone in the workplace who may be particularly vulnerable to infection or any other risks posed by dogs (expectant mothers and asthma sufferers for example)? Thought will need to be given to how these risks will be managed;
- Phobias – some employees may have a phobia of dogs which will cause them unnecessary stress. If there are employees who have a phobia consider how this can be managed; and
- Other risks - the types and extent of risks to be considered will be specific to each workplace and the type and nature of the dog being introduced to it therefore the list provided above is not exhaustive.
A new risk assessment will need to be carried out in relation to each and every dog that comes into the workplace, taking into account any unique risks posed by the specific dog being introduced. Employers will need to engage with the dog’s owner in order to complete the risk assessment and employees should also be reminded of their duty under the Act to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others whilst they are at work.
In addition to health and safety, there are the practical considerations of bringing pet dogs into the workplace. If the workplace is in a rented building, there may be specific exclusions in the lease which prohibits animals on the demised premises. Does any insurance policy (public liability or employer’s liability insurance for example) exclude incidents or injuries caused by animals or pets? Who will be responsible for any property damage or injuries caused by the dog? The dog’s owner may need to check their pet insurance to see whether it is still valid for incidents which occur outside a domestic environment.
To avoid disputes employers should implement a policy so that all parties are clear on the rules about bringing dogs into the workplace. The policy should include, how permission to bring a dog in to work should be sought, the criteria by which any dogs will be accepted or rejected, how employees will be consulted on their feelings around having dogs in the workplace, who will be responsible for looking after the dog whilst it is in the workplace, arrangements for exercising and toileting the dog, monitoring of the dog’s behaviour and its effect on the workplace and monitoring the insurance status of the dog as well as its flea, tick and vaccination status for example.
The information on this site about legal matters is provided as a general guide only. Although we try to ensure that all of the information on this site is accurate and up to date, this cannot be guaranteed. The information on this site should not be relied upon or construed as constituting legal advice and Howes Percival LLP disclaims liability in relation to its use. You should seek appropriate legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action.