More employers than ever are allowing dogs into the workplace. Big companies like Google and Amazon allow employees to bring their dogs to work – as do 8% of American workplaces, according to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management survey.
Because this decision brings risk into the workplace, it’s a good time to revisit the issues employers face when making this choice. Every year, National Dog Bite Prevention Week is “celebrated” to educate and remind us about how our furry friends conduct themselves around humans. The Insurance Information Institute also published recent dog-bite statistics. Any employer making a decision on pets in the workplace should consult both of these resources.
My Experience With Dogs in the Workplace
The publication of this data reminds me of an event that is permanently etched in my memory. A while ago, I was introduced to business owners by their CPA. The owners were dissatisfied with their current insurance broker relationship and were considering a change. We set an appointment so I could learn more about their business and their needs.
When I walked through their office door, I was immediately met by two medium-sized pit bulls. Both were showing their teeth, growling and barking at me in a very aggressive manner.
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I have always been a dog lover. I’ve had two pet dogs who became loving members of our family. When meeting dogs for the first time, I’m usually successful in establishing a rapport with them, but this meeting required the owner’s immediate intervention.
The employees in the office reacted with smiles and remained seated at their desks. My guess is that this type of greeting was common.
Why Employers Allow Dogs in the Workplace
In my discussions with employers, they cite the following as reasons why they or their staff bring pets to the workplace:
- The pet experiences anxiety by being left at home alone
- Dogs provide additional protection for the employer and employees
- The pet is a “service animal” to assist the employee with mental or physical disabilities
- They just like having the dog around them
The dog-bite statistics tracked by the Insurance Information Institute show the total number and cost of dog bites, but they don’t include dog-bite incidents or injuries in the workplace.
This lack of business-specific data certainly doesn’t detract from the potential legal and financial issues employers can create for their businesses if they allow dogs on their premises.
What Can Go Wrong?
A look at the statistics shows how dog bites continue to be an expensive problem. At least 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. Those numbers increase each year.
The problem also affects employers who send their employees out into neighborhoods or homes with unrestrained dogs. For example, the employees of the U.S. Postal Service who deliver mail continue to have problems with dog bites, and they are usually armed with a spray to protect them from aggressive dogs.
Commercial insurance carriers typically don’t ask whether dogs will be present at a business, unlike the personal insurance companies that provide homeowners insurance. However, if you’re an employer considering allowing dogs in your workplace, it’s a good idea to consult a list of some “unacceptable” dogs that personal insurance companies frequently refuse to insure. You’ll notice some familiar breeds here, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies and malamutes.
Considerations for Employers
Before you allow dogs into your workplace, take the following into consideration:
- If it isn’t necessary, why create more potential liabilities for your business? There are many workplace hazards that can cause injury to your employees. Why bring in another opportunity for injury if that can be avoided?
- Be aware of those dog breeds that have a history of aggressive behavior.
- If an employee requires a “service animal,” and you have confirmed the animal is truly a “certified service animal,” you will most likely need to accommodate your employee. To confirm certification, have the employee provide a letter from a doctor. Work with your HR professional so the process of consideration and accommodation is performed in accord with employment laws.
- Dogs can be a distraction and slow efficiencies in your company’s workflow.
- Some people have a fear of dogs. How are you going to deal with this issue?
- Some people have allergies that can be aggravated by the presence of animals in the workplace before, during or after the employee’s work hours.
- When the dog bites an employee, in addition to reporting this to your workers’ compensation company and getting medical treatment for the employee, you must decide what to do with the dog and how to manage employees’ perceptions of this event and possible future incidents?
- Do you want customers and other guests to potentially experience what I did when they come to your business?
If you do decide to allow dogs in the workplace, your HR professional will need to update your employee manual. Set guidelines as to how and where the pet may be located. Set guidelines for acceptable animal behavior. Create clear guidelines about the owner’s productivity and responsibilities. Establish how other employees may interact with the pet.
These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before implementing any new policies.
With the potential risks involved in workers’ compensation, HR and general liability, should dogs really be in the workplace?