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Following the pandemic, increasing numbers of employees are asking their bosses if they can bring an assistance/emotional support animal to the office. And we are not just taking about dogs – cats, rabbits, spiders, snakes and iguanas are all on the growing list of pets for employers to consider.

Wellbeing benefits

We’ve all heard the rationale that office pets can help boost morale and foster relationship building between coworkers. Advocates also mentioned how they can reduce their stress levels and positively influence their health, job satisfaction and organisational issues citing an increase in productivity and employee morale. But as an employer where do you stand, both legally and morally, when faced with the question?

Employers are familiar with the concept of accommodating assistance dogs for disabled employers. The Equality Act 2010 says that refusing to allow access to people with assistance dogs because other people ‘might’ be allergic to dogs is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination. This is because the Equality Act 2010 states that employers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, including accommodating an assistance animal if the employee would be substantially disadvantaged because of their disability without the animal.

Pet definitions

But what is an official assistance dog? could it be one you have trained yourself perhaps? Probably not as the law clearly asserts that it should be trained and registered with a member organisation listed by Assistance Dogs International or Assistance Dogs UK.

So, with a few blurred boundaries, how would you respond if asked about the possibility of someone bringing a therapy rabbit, or an emotional support spider into the workplace? Surely if an employee can prove that the presence of said pet can alleviated their anxiety in stressful situations, or boost levels of wellbeing, you would be hard pushed to say no?

Pets in the workplace policy

In this instance however, it’s important that you consider everyone in the workplace, and your customers and suppliers too, to check how this will affect them and then balance it against the original request. Remember just because you like pets, does not mean that others must tolerate them in their work environment

It goes without saying that having a pet at work policy is a must. The policy should contain some clear guidelines, which may include the following.

  1. Understanding of responsibilities of pet owner – behaviour, wellbeing, feeding, toileting, insurance, vaccinations, clean/free of parasites, clearing up after them, staying in one designated area.
  2. The need to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment – risk of injuries caused by pet biting, scratching or knocking someone over, who will visit the area where the animal will be and how the animal will evacuate the premises if there is an emergency.
  3. Health and safety considerations – restraint, animals bedding/housing, water bowls, and food should not be a tripping hazard to others or obstruct any emergency exits or passageways. Employees also need to ensure that they are clean and well-groomed and that clinical or food preparation areas are kept sterile.
  4. Survey employees and customers to find out if anyone has any relevant:
  • Allergies that must be considered
  • Religious or cultural objections
  • Phobias
  1. Confirmation that the pet must be quiet, well-behaved and cause no disruption.
  2. Rules for what happens if something is damaged, or pets who do not get on with each other or have a dislike of certain people at work.
  3. Understanding that things can be reviewed and permissions revoked in light of any issues, or difficulties, that may arise.

It’s important for employers to look at every request individually and then refer to their pets in the workplace policy ensuring that risk assessments and health and safety considerations have been completed and that everyone in the workplace is happy with the decision being taken.

How can I help?

For assistance with putting together a pets in the workplace policy, please email caroline.robertson@actifhr.co.uk