Dogs in the workplace: the risks and rewards

People love their dogs. Increasingly, they love to bring them to work.

But before you open the doors of your office to canine companions, it's a good idea to assess the risks and responsibilities. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dogs bite about 4.5 million people every year in the U.S. Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims.

Injury is just one risk of letting dogs in the office. Business owners also need to do a risk assessment that takes into account the work environment and the feelings of all employees.

Risk Assessment

In any risk assessment, we consider the categories of strategic, financial, operational, reputational, and compliance risk. While there may be strategic risks, the primary categories of risk for businesses that allow dogs in the workplace are financial, operational and reputational. But first, there is one compliance issue that you should be aware of.

Compliance Risk

Even businesses that do not allow dogs must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA's list of "reasonable accommodations" includes dogs that are trained and working as service animals. The ADA makes a distinction between those dogs and comfort and support animals. Employers must allow trained and working service animals to accompany an employee on the job.

Financial Risk

Arguably, the biggest risk associated with dogs in the workplace is the financial risk. Dogs can be unpredictable. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost per dog bite or injury claim is $32,072.00. A 2010 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that hospital stays related to dog bites cost an average of $18,200.00, about 50 percent higher than hospital stays related to other types of injury.

While any dog can have a bad moment, Merritt Clifton, the editor of Animals 24-7, found that Molosser breeds (including pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiff, sharpies, and boxers) were responsible for 86 percent of the attacks that caused bodily injury. Some municipalities identify and restrict certain "dangerous" breeds. Some insurance companies exclude all dog-related incidents from coverage while others have restrictions on certain breeds, particularly those considered "dangerous."

While it is the responsibility of the dog owner to carry liability insurance, exclusions may leave gaps in coverage. If an employee, patron, or visitor to your workplace is injured and their claim is denied by the dog owner's private insurance, they are likely to turn to the business for recovery. To protect your business' financial interests, discuss liability issues with your attorney and your insurance agent before you implement a pet policy.

Of course, it's not all about bites. Happy and excited dogs can jump up and cause injuries, and all dog owners know dogs get underfoot and can cause you to trip.

Operational Risk

Consider how dogs at your worksite may affect normal business operations. Will wet noses and wagging tails damage or interfere with items or machinery? Can the business' interest be protected while also protecting the animals themselves?

Reputational Risk

Reputation is critical in business. Google, Etsy, Amazon, and others allows dogs to come to work with their owners. Dogs in the workplace contribute to the company's culture, often enhancing its perceived value. While bad pet behavior may be a financial and reputational risk, a dog-friendly company may be a way to connect with customers and recruits, and to improve awareness of your brand and its value. If allowing dogs in the workplace seems like a way to enhance your business' reputation, there are many ways to balance the risks.

Risk Management

You can manage the risk of dogs in the workplace by reducing and transferring them. First, create a pet policy that addresses the risks to your specific business. All pet policies should address your expectation of the dog owners about feeding, bathroom breaks, and aggressive behavior. Remember to include how - and by whom - the policy will be enforced. Include employees in the creation of the policy.

Transfer the financial risk to the employee by requiring proof of insurance coverage.

Assessing the risks and rewards helps you create a work environment that's friendly to people and pets alike.

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Cristen S. Iris is the founder and CEO of Blue Mantis Press in Boise. She is a publisher and book marketer who applies lessons learned while working in risk management and insurance to everything she does.

Published: Wed, Feb 17, 2016

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