The question of whether to allow dogs in the workplace is one that many employers face. A dog-friendly office can be a major perk for many employees, and sometimes fulfilling ADA requirements supersede an employer’s decision, if an employee with disabilities requires a service animal to do their job.
Outside of ADA considerations, allowing pet dogs in the office can open an employer up to major liability, since generally, employers will be liable for dog attacks and damages that occur in the workplace, although dog owners share some of that liability. While the exact legal specifics may vary by state and individual case, the liability general falls into two categories: personal injury and property damage.
Personal Injury Liability
Unlike homeowners and renters insurance policies, which typically cover the legal expenses of dog bite liability, dogs in the workplace are not excluded from liability. If a dog attacks and injures an employee, customer, or any guests invited onsite, the business owner can be held liable. The dog owner could be liable as well, and the injured employee could potentially sue both the employer and the dog owner.
Property Damage Liability
Another factor to consider if dogs are allowed in the workplace is property damage. Dogs can be destructive, especially if they are bored or not adequately trained, and allowing them in an office can easily lead to the destruction of office equipment, including chairs, computer monitors, and carpets. These are all things the employer would have to replace if they get damaged by a dog. And if a dog damages another employee’s personal property that is rightfully in the office, the employer could be held liable.
Insurance & Indemnification
One solution to both of these liability issues is to have comprehensive rules for dogs allowed in the office. The employer may choose to require the owner to get insurance that covers any injuries their dog causes. They can also require that employees planning to bring dogs to work sign an indemnification agreement, meaning the employee will have to cover the cost of defending the company against dog bite injury cases. In addition, the employer can ask the employee to sign a contract saying they will cover the cost of property damaged by their dog.
While some employees may think these policies seem extreme or unnecessary, they help ensure that a dog-friendly office is also employer-friendly by limiting the liability the company faces if problems arise.
Welcoming furry friends to the workplace can contribute to a better work culture, helping to attract and retain employees. While not all risks can be avoided, employers can take steps to limit their liability while making employees happy. In addition to the policies regarding insurance, the employer should create written policies explaining the details of the dog-friendly office that include everything from how often dogs are allowed to be there to what will happen if a dog misbehaves.
Ultimately, each business owner will have to weigh the benefits against the risks and then decide. If employers establish detailed, well-thought-out policies that they enforce fairly, there is a much better chance of the program working out well for all parties involved: employers, landlords, employees, and dogs.