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Keven Moore: Workplace ‘going to the dogs’ can boost productivity — and create risks too

Over the centuries, dogs have been used as guards, hunters, herders, eyes for the blind, drug and explosive detectors, rodent controllers — even weapons. Not to mention, loyal companions.

Now, it seems, they are also used as morale-builders, stress-relievers and productivity boosters in the workplace. Recent surveys and studies have suggested that the presence of a dog in the workplace can have multiple benefits, for the employer as well as the employee.

Some of the benefits may be tied to the fact that a dog has biological needs, requiring the owner/employee to take more frequent walks. That, of course, can be beneficial emotionally and physically. There is also the notion that having dogs at work encourages coworkers to interact more. After all, there’s a certain kinship among dog owners that can help with team-building efforts and break down the barriers cubicle walls create.

Photo: Humane Society via Pinterest

As an avid dog owner myself, I am more than receptive to the idea and even recently recommended it as part of a fundraiser within our office. However, as a risk management and safety consultant and being married to someone with a severe pet allergy, I realize that there will be a few who would rather let sleeping dogs lie – at home.

The concept of bringing dogs into a more formal workplace is still relatively new, and both employers and employees should take a few steps before implementing a dog-friendly policy. For example, employers should survey the workforce not only about allergies but about phobias. Despite how likable and lovable a dog may be, there are some people who have an irrational fear of dogs, called cynophobia.

Dogs can be a huge distraction if not supervised correctly. Employees should make sure their pets are well-trained and non-aggressive around people and other animals.

Perhaps the biggest risk of allowing dogs at work is the liability risk it represents. While the dog owner is ultimately responsible, the employer may also be on the hook if the dog bites someone or creates some other problem.

As an employer, you are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of your customers and your employees. And given the fact that an average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $32,072, you should be concerned.

This is also the same society where there is the risk that an employee may even try to file ADA disability claim against you due to an animal allergy or even their cynophobia if you do not make reasonable accommodations.

If you are considering allowing dogs in the workplace, it’s important to draft a written pet policy that is reviewed by your company attorney. It should dictate when animals can come and what happens if the animal is aggressive or damages property, or if the animal is disruptive to work.

It should address immunization, aggressive behavior, supervision requirements, off-limit zones, noise control, size and breed restrictions, and potty breaks. You may want to even consider a one-strike policy for messes or aggressive behavior.

Make sure that the pet owner follows your rules and keeps the pet area tidy. Also be sure to talk it over with your landlord and your insurer to make sure you will not violate your lease or insurance policy. Pet owners should also show proof that the pet is licensed and vaccinated.

To truly protect the interest of your business you should consider requiring pet owners to secure and provide proof of insurance from an existing homeowners or umbrella policy, and then require the employee to sign an indemnification agreement that will require the employee to pay the cost of defending any dog-bite case that comes your company’s way.
Little things like this can make a huge difference in the overall success of your efforts to create a dog-friendly environment in the workplace. If you decide to have a pet-friendly workplace, make sure you listen to your employees and invited visitors. If there are issues, take them seriously, and enforce your policy.

If you treat everyone with respect — pet lover or not — you are likely to defuse a bad situation before it escalates into a costly claim. It’s important to remind your employees that this is a privilege with a lot of responsibilities.

Be safe, my friends.


Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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