Can You Bring Your Dog to Work? OSHA’s Surprising Stance on Pets in the Office


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the main federal agency responsible for setting and enforcing standards to ensure safe and healthful working conditions in the United States. OSHA was established as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 with the mission to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance” (OSHA Law and Regulations).

Under the Act, employers have a duty to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm (OSHA Worker Rights and Protections). OSHA establishes standards and regulations designed to protect worker safety and health across all industries. The agency conducts inspections and issues penalties for noncompliance. OSHA requirements cover many aspects of the workplace environment.

Service Dogs in the Workplace

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws, a service dog is defined as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the service dog must be directly related to the person’s disability (

A few examples of work or tasks service dogs can provide for people with disabilities include guiding people who are blind or have low vision, alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting an individual who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service dogs are working animals, not pets (

Under Title I of the ADA, which covers employment, service dogs are considered a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. An employee with a disability must request to bring their service dog to work as an accommodation. Employers are required to modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability (

a service dog wearing a vest walks next to a person

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are different from service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service animals are trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, while ESAs provide comfort and support. According to the ADA, ESA owners may be allowed to live with their animals in no-pet housing and to travel with them on airlines under certain conditions. However, ESAs are generally not granted access to public places in the same way that service animals are.

When it comes to the workplace, the ADA does not require employers to allow ESAs. However, under the Fair Housing Act, employers may have to accommodate ESAs as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities if the animal’s presence does not pose an undue hardship. According to AskJAN, employers should go through an interactive process with the employee to determine if there is a disability-related need for the ESA and if so, how the animal can be accommodated.

Employers may exclude ESAs from the workplace if they pose a direct threat, fundamentally alter the nature of the business, or cause an undue hardship. It is recommended that employers have clear policies in place regarding ESAs in order to avoid confusion and potential discrimination claims.

Pet Policies

Many workplaces have adopted pet-friendly policies that allow employees to bring their dogs to work. According to one survey, 7% of employers allow pets in the workplace, with dogs being the most common pet (Better Cities for Pets). These policies lay out guidelines for having pets in the office and help ensure a positive environment for everyone.

Pet-friendly companies often require employees to register their pets before bringing them in. Registration may include providing proof of vaccinations and good behavior. Policies typically specify that pets must be housebroken, well-behaved, leashed or crated, and cleaned up after. Many limit the number, sizes, and types of pets allowed. Owners are responsible for monitoring and caring for their pets while working.

Policies outline areas that are off-limits to pets, like cafeterias, labs, or manufacturing floors. They cover pet etiquette, noise policies, and procedures if issues arise. Companies may restrict pets during high-traffic times. In some cases, managers and supervisors can decide if pets may be present based on circumstances. Policies aim to create a safe, clean, and distraction-free environment.

While pets are usually allowed in open workspaces and offices, some companies provide designated pet-friendly rooms. Separate spaces can accommodate employees with allergies or those desiring a pet-free workspace. Clear communication and flexibility help make pet-friendly policies successful.

OSHA Regulations

OSHA does not have any specific standards prohibiting the presence of pets in the workplace. According to an OSHA standard interpretation from 2004, “OSHA does not have any specific standards prohibiting the presence of pets in the workplace. We recommend that you contact your State and local health departments regarding any local ordinances they may have pertaining to pets in the workplace” (OSHA 2004).

However, OSHA does have general duty clause regulations that require employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment. If the presence of a dog creates hazards such as bites, scratches, slips, trips or falls, allergens, or unsanitary conditions, the employer would be required to address those hazards. OSHA also has standards related to walking and working surfaces, sanitation, personal protective equipment, and other aspects of the work environment that may be applicable in situations involving dogs in the workplace (OSHA).

In laboratory and animal care facilities, OSHA has regulations regarding hazards associated with animal handling, containment, allergens, andwaste disposal. Employers must provide appropriate training, equipment, and facilities to protect workers in these settings (OSHA Quick Facts).

Benefits of Dogs in the Office

Research has shown that allowing dogs in the workplace can provide various physical and mental health benefits for employees. According to a 2021 study published in the journal BMC Public Health, the presence of dogs in the workplace was associated with reduced stress and higher job satisfaction among employees [1]. Interacting with dogs has been found to lower cortisol levels, heart rate, and blood pressure, indicating a reduction in stress [2].

Dogs can also increase employee morale, productivity, and collaboration in the workplace. According to a 2017 review, the social support provided by dogs can satisfy employees’ needs for affiliation and improve mood. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and performance [3]. Having dogs around can also facilitate more social interactions and team building among employees.

Potential Downsides of Dogs in the Workplace

While there are many benefits to allowing dogs in the office, there are also some potential downsides that employers need to consider:

Allergies – Some employees may have allergies to dogs that could be aggravated by their presence in the workplace. According to research, 10-15% of people are allergic to dogs. Employers will need to be sensitive to employees with allergies and make accommodations if needed, such as keeping dogs out of certain work areas. This is cited from:

a dog sits in an office workspace

Distractions – While interacting with dogs can boost morale and productivity for some, they can be distracting for others, especially in open office environments. The frequent presence of dogs could disrupt work and cause employees to lose focus. Managers will need to set expectations around minimizing disruption. Dogs should not be allowed in meetings, for example.

Liability issues – Employers can be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by dogs brought to work. According to one source, pets in the workplace resulted in a 50% increase in insurance claims. If a dog bites someone at work, the company is liable. It’s important to have clear pet policies and procedures to mitigate risks. See:

Best Practices

When creating a pet policy, businesses should try to accommodate both employees with service animals and those with pet allergies. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where employees are normally allowed to go. Employers should not make assumptions about how allergic an individual employee may be. It is advisable to try to work out an agreement between the employees so that both can perform their jobs comfortably.

Some best practices include:

  • Clearly communicate pet policies and expectations for cleanliness and training in a written policy.
  • Designate pet-free zones for employees with allergies or those wanting fur-free areas.
  • Require dogs to be leashed in common areas like hallways or the cafeteria.
  • Provide designated relief areas for dogs outside.
  • Limit the number of pets in the office at one time.
  • Ensure owners clean up thoroughly after accidents.
  • Make owners sign liability waivers in case of bites or damage.
  • Ban pets from food preparation areas and sensitive equipment.
  • Enforce consequences like revoking privileges for problem pets.

With some forethought and guidelines, businesses can accommodate pets while maintaining a professional and enjoyable office environment.

Insurance Considerations

When allowing dogs in the workplace, business owners need to consider potential liability issues and make sure they have the proper insurance coverage. One major concern is that the dog could bite or injure an employee or customer. The business owner could be held responsible and face legal and financial consequences.

To protect against liability claims, businesses should have insurance policies that specifically cover dogs on the premises. This usually involves expanding their general liability insurance or purchasing a special policy just for commercial canine risks. Some key coverages to look for include:

a dog insurance policy document

  • Dog bite liability – Covers injuries if a business’s dog bites someone.
  • Third party damage – Covers property damage if the dog causes an accident.
  • Medical expenses – Pays medical bills for dog bite victims.
  • Legal/court costs – Covers legal expenses if the business is sued.

Insurance will help protect the company from costly liability claims. Businesses should disclose their policy to employees and have proper signage alerting visitors that a dog is onsite. With the right coverage and precautions, companies can more safely reap the benefits of a pet-friendly workplace.


In summary, though the regulations around having dogs in the workplace are complex, the following considerations provide a pathway for businesses interested in implementing a successful dog-friendly policy:

  • Service dogs are permitted by law and must be accommodated under ADA guidelines. Developing clear policies and training for staff can ensure service dogs are welcomed appropriately.
  • Emotional support animals may be reasonable accommodations under ADA for employees with disabilities. However, they are generally not covered under public access rights.
  • Optional pet-friendly policies should outline guidelines around approved areas, cleanup, supervision, and more. Liability insurance and waivers can help mitigate risks.
  • a happy dog at the office

  • Conducting surveys and pilot programs can reveal employee interest levels and logistical challenges to address before fully implementing. Start small and expand carefully.
  • While benefits like stress reduction and increased morale may exist, so can drawbacks like allergies and distractions from work. Consider both angles thoughtfully.
  • With proper planning and policies, many workplaces can reap rewards from allowing dogs without negatively impacting operations or safety.

By weighing these key considerations and crafting guidelines tailored to their unique needs, companies can determine if dogs may be a positive addition to their office environment.

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