Many employees are working from home at the moment, alongside their pets. Being around animals has long been declared as a way to lower people’s anxiety and stress and there have been muted calls for businesses to allow pets to be brought into the workplace in the past. However, in the pre-pandemic world, this idea failed to gather much traction.
Of course, assistance animals such as guide dogs are likely to be seen as reasonable adjustment for those suffering with sight loss, but the benefits of having a pet both for people with disabilities and for general mental wellbeing has been catching media attention throughout lockdown.
According to various reports, pet ownership has significantly increased during the pandemic, meaning many of those new pets will be in homes where their owner has been working from home. However, in the near future, it is likely that people will be asked, and expected to, make a return to their place of work, whether full time or as part of a flexible working practice. So, what is the situation regarding pets?
There is no statutory right which allows an employee to take their pet into their office, but some employers may allow it as a policy or even as a contractual right.
One argument in favour of pets in the office is that animals in general, can help reduce stress and anxiety. A dog owner may feel the benefit of reduced stress levels with their companion by their side and this may avoid the need to rush back home to walk or feed them. Other staff may benefit from animals being present, whether that be a cuddle at lunch time, or merely for having something adorable to look at when the working day is dragging.
There have been numerous studies which show that animals, and in particular dogs, can benefit individuals who suffer from various disabilities including autism.
Having pets in the office can improve morale, reduce levels of anxiety and increase productivity. It also creates a welcoming, calm and inclusive working environment. In addition, it may encourage staff to return to the office, especially if they are concerned that their pet may have separation anxiety.
From a risk perspective, an employer would need to ensure that it continues to comply with its obligations under the Health and Safety Act.
All employers have to ensure that the work place is safe for staff to attend and take proactive measures to ensure that risks to both physical and mental health are minimised.
Animals may pose a danger to staff, and some staff may not be comfortable with animals being in a work environment.
Of course, employers also need to consider that pets may be a distraction for the owner and other staff, either by being irresistibly cute, or by making unwanted noise like a barking dog which can impact productivity.
In addition, some individuals may have more personal concerns with pets being in an office, ranging from fears to allergic reactions.
If you need further guidance and advice about pets in a working environment, Wards Solicitors specialist employment law team can help.
Get in touch
For an initial discussion, please contact Wards Solicitors’ specialist employment lawyers, Joe Nicholls and Matthew Warren by calling 0117 929 2811 or you can email Joe.Nicholls@wards.uk.com or Matthew.Warren@wards.uk.com.