Last reviewed 23 June 2022

According to figures from Statista, the number of households owning a pet jumped from 41% in 2019–20 to 62% in 2021–22. The UK has always been a nation of pet lovers, and these statistics show that remains the case.

Even for those without a pet at home, animals can bring comfort and joy. City law firm Hogan Lovells recognised this and paid an animal therapy provider, Paws in Work, to bring in “adorable puppies” for two days to get staff back into the office. Another city-based office building is offering puppy yoga classes for staff who may need a “serotonin boost”. Clearly, some employers are getting creative in encouraging staff back into the office.

How about making this a permanent solution to encourage office-based working?

Bring your dog to work day

“Bring Your Dog To Work Day” is on 24 June 2022, a day when pet owners are encouraged to bring their dogs along to the workplace and raise funds for animal welfare charities.

Employers considering introducing doggy workdays might use this as a trial for further events, but before they commit to this, there are a number of issues to consider.

Designing a policy

A clear policy will also help to alleviate concerns over dogs in the office and make behavioural expectations clear. Below we set out the key elements to a dog-friendly policy.

Is it appropriate?

Many businesses undertake a variety of work. Some may be office based, but it could also be outside in a public area, in a kitchen, a warehouse with constant movement of people and forklifts, or a factory with machinery — this list could go on. Would it be safe and sanitary to have a dog in all of these environments? Not necessarily. Each area of work will need to be carefully assessed for its appropriateness for waggy-tailed visitors.

Is it legal?

Legally, there is no reason a dog cannot go to work. However, in a situation where that dog may cause harm to others (either as a trip hazard, allergies or its behaviour) it would be a breach of the employer’s duty of care to allow it. A careful check of relevant rental and insurance agreements will also be needed before allowing dogs on site to make sure it does not invalidate them.

Is the workplace ready for it?

So, you have established that the workplace is an appropriate space for a dog, and it would not cause any issues, legal or otherwise, by being there. The next step to consider is how pet-proof the workplace is. Consider the following.

  • How will you deal with pet hair, extra cleaning?

  • Is there a location nearby for the dog to relieve itself?

  • Where will they be — allowed to roam, in a crate (or dog cage) or secured by a lead? Is there space?

  • Is food stored at doggy height — they might not be forgiven for stealing sandwiches!

  • Can food preparation areas be secured to stop the dog entering them?

  • Are bins secure (you’ll be amazed how much fun a dog can have with an unsecured bin!)?

The risk assessment

What needs to be added to the risk assessment to address this new risk, and what steps can be taken to minimise it?

A code of conduct

  • The dog’s owner is legally and financially responsible for any damage (to people or property), eg by ensuring that they have appropriate third-party insurance.

  • There is a probationary period for any pets to ensure that the dog is happy in the work environment and that their presence and behaviour is not unduly distracting.

  • Ground rules about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, ie it is unlikely to be acceptable for a dog to rush around, bark or be over-protective of their owner. Bear in mind, it might be necessary to have ground rules for other employees too, eg whether it is OK to pet or feed the dog.

  • Requiring up-to-date vaccinations, regular treatment for ticks and mites, and not allowing dogs into the office if they are ill.

  • Outlining that the owner is responsible for the dog at all times, and what should happen if the dog needs to be left for any period of time.

  • Only having dogs in the office when appropriate, ie not if their owner is in an all-day meeting and cannot provide the necessary attention.

  • Considering whether there should be a rota, or other means of limiting the number of dogs in the workplace.

  • Setting rules on whereabouts the dog can be, including, for example, whether they are allowed in when staff with allergies or phobias are also present.

  • Setting out any requirements for welfare responsibilities, such as feeding, how frequently bedding is changed and where food is kept.

  • Making it clear what happens if any rules are broken.

Assistance dogs

A recent case (non-employment law) involving Sainsbury’s saw someone wanting to bring their assistance cat into the store to help them manage their severe autism. Without the cat, they would not be able to cope with the sights and sounds of shopping. This raises an important question — should such animals be treated the same as guide dogs, and are employers under a duty to allow them on site?

Increasingly, dogs and various other animals are also being used as “assistance dogs” to help individuals with needs such as psychological and mental health issues. To them, their animal is not a “perk” but a necessity. Whether or not this would be viewed as a “reasonable adjustment”, however, is another matter.

Employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees that enable them to overcome the disadvantage created by their health condition. Reasonable, as ever in employment law, is key. Below, we set out some key considerations for employers faced with such a request.

  1. Is the employee disabled as recognised by the Equality Act 2010.

  2. Is the assistance animal clinically required or advised? The criteria for guide dogs are clear, but assistance animals are not managed in the same way.

  3. Would excluding the animal place the individual at a substantial disadvantage or is it simply a preference?

  4. Do any colleagues have an allergy or phobia and how would having the animal in the workspace impact them?

  5. Is the workplace suitable for the animal? For example, do they work in or nearby a food preparation area?

  6. Are other animals on site and do they pose a danger to each other? For example, fish in a tank and cats may not mix well.

  7. Is the animal trained and trusted in a work environment? Not only in terms of aggression but also noise, jumping up or house training.

  8. Is the request to bring the animal in proportionate? Is it being asked for full time or just during particular meetings; when might the need for it apply?

Employers faced with a request for an assistance animal will need to do their research, and if they intend to decline it, have good reasons for doing so to avoid discrimination. Any workplace already allowing dogs in, even just on specific days, may find this more difficult to prove.

Conclusion

Having a dog or other animals on site is one way to create a relaxed and inviting culture. For employers wanting to create such a culture, and entice reluctant returners to the office back in, this may be just the thing they need. However, it is not without its disadvantages, and these will need to be considered carefully before animals are allowed on site, even if deemed an appropriate adjustment for an employee.