by Alison Neumann

Dogs in the Workplace

It has recently become popular among businesses to encourage, or at least allow, employees to bring their pet dogs to work.  This is often viewed as a perk to potential employees, and is known to boost morale, increase productivity, motivation, and reduce stress.  What can be more fun or enjoyable than a workplace that allows you to bring your best furry friend to the office?  In fact, American Pet Products Manufacturers Association conducted a survey that found nearly a quarter of employees believe that pets should be allowed in the workplace.

However, a few questions come to mind.  How can an atmosphere like this be insured properly to protect the business?  What happens if a dog acts out and injures another person or causes property damage with one of their “presents” or destructive habits?  Those are great questions for your insurance agent!

As a business owner, you’ll first have to decide if your business supports the atmosphere for dogs.  Own a pet supply and garden store?  The answer may be yes!  But are dogs appropriate in every business?  Probably not.  Before installing dog-friendly improvements and betterments to your building, you will want to consider some possible issues.

Liability:  If a dog that you allow in your workplace injures someone, whether they are an employee, customer, or mail carrier, you may be held liable.  Asking the employee who owns the dog to be held responsible for any injuries is appropriate. Dog owners can often purchase insurance that will cover this, including homeowners or renters policies, umbrella policies, or specific canine liability policies.  Your business’ general liability carrier may also specifically exclude this coverage, because your business has no control over the temperament of the dog. Any cost would fall on you and your employee’s shoulders if a legal battle were to ensue.  Of course, every policy is different, so be sure to talk with your insurance agent, and know the specific coverages and exclusions.

Property:  Dogs are loveable, but we all know stories of how dogs have destroyed things in homes.  Remember the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse?  Hopefully he doesn’t eat your work presentation!  Again, the dog owner should be held responsible for the cost.

Building:  Do you own or rent your space?  If you rent, you will need to check with your landlord to get permission before allowing the dogs on the premises.  Otherwise, your business could risk eviction.

People:  Not everyone loves dogs.  Some people are allergic, or being near dogs may cause them anxiety.  If you don’t offer reasonable accommodations for employees, you may be violating the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Designating certain dog-free areas, and also knowing what employees experience allergies may help, but this is considered a legal grey area because many dogs are needed as certified service dogs.  Trying to accommodate as best as possible is often the most you can do.

Creating a written policy of rules that address all of these situations, getting printed proof of the dogs’ license and vaccinations, and having the owner(s) sign an agreement to comply with the policy and accept financial responsibility for any injury or damage will help protect you and your business.

Beyond the actual workplace rules, you will also want to check with your local township/city ordinances when it comes to pets in the workplace.  OSHA does not have any specific standards excluding dogs in the workplace.  They recommend contacting state and local health departments for specific regulations.

If you have questions about being covered sufficiently, or questions about any of your policies, contact your insurance agent today.


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