my bosses’ dog keeps attacking my coworkers

A reader writes:

I work for a small nonprofit in a city where many offices allow dogs. The organization I work for is still run by its founders, and they have maintained nearly full control of all operations since the organization’s inception. In other words, the place is pretty dysfunctional.

The cofounders adopted an abused dog who has serious behavior problems. When they tried to leave him at home, he ended up destroying their furniture, so now they bring him to work.

Normally I love dogs, but this one is not my favorite. For one, he has horrible gas, which infuses the office with a rank stench that has made me vomit. More seriously, he bites people. He bit my coworker badly enough that she had to go to the ER. The two cofounders paid for her medical bills, but still bring in the dog. He has bitten two other coworkers–seriously enough to break the skin, but not enough to require medical attention. The dog hasn’t bitten me, but has snapped at me when I go into the CEO’s office, and I am terrified of him. We don’t have a dedicated HR function, and the person responsible has a questionable work background and thus does whatever the cofounders tell him to do.

Whenever I see this dog, I react fearfully, which infuriates the two cofounders, as if I were personally insulting them. I also feel like I should be able to go to a job that has nothing to do with pets without fear of getting bitten by a dog–we are not a dog rescue or Humane Society. After reading your blog for some time, I know better than to ask, “Is this legal?” So instead, I will ask you to please weigh in. What should I do?

Poor dog — it sounds like they’re really mishandling the situation in a number of ways, one of which is that they need to get that dog some obedience training, which would probably make him calmer, happier, and better behaved.

But that’s not really your problem. Your problem is that you’re working with an aggressive dog and managers who apparently could give a flying crap. (Actually, that’s just your short-term problem. Your bigger problem is that you need a new job, but we’ll get to that.)

Since your managers have now let the dog bite three different people, and since they’re offended when you show fear of the dog, we can assume they’re not likely to respond well to a reasonable, straightforward request to change the situation if you just approach them on your own. To have the best chance of swaying them — and to keep them from blaming you for being the problem — your best bet is to try to have a group of your coworkers talk to them and lay out the concerns here. Those concerns should be heavily focused on the fact that people don’t feel safe and the dog is impacting productivity, and you should ask them directly to make another arrangement for the dog during the day so that people can have a safe work environment. (And use the words “safe work environment.” Those words tend to connote the idea of “something you’re obligated to provide” and thus are helpful in situations like this.)

Beyond that … well, from a workplace standpoint, it’s really up to them to decide if they want to change something here or not. From a more general legal standpoint, many jurisdictions have laws about liability when dogs bite, and you might want to check into that — although when you’re at that point that you’re trying to press charges against your boss, it’s really time to get yourself out of that environment and into a new job.

Which it’s time to do here anyway. Dog issues aside, working somewhere highly dysfunctional will do no favors for your quality of life or your career.

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