The Labour Court in Düsseldorf (file no.: 8 CA 7883/12) decided on 4 September that an employee could be prohibited from bringing her dog to the office even if other employees were allowed to do so.
The plaintiff was employed by an advertising agency. With the permission of her employer, she brought her dog to the office. It came from an animal welfare organisation in Russia, had only three legs and, perhaps as a result, a fairly mean disposition. The agency withdrew that permission some time later when the dog began to demonstrate dangerous social and territorial behaviour. Her colleagues became afraid to enter the plaintiff’s office. And also unwilling – the dog had something of a hygiene problem to which its owner had seemingly become immune, but which very much offended her visiting workmates.
The employee invoked the employment law principle of equal treatment because other staff continued to be allowed to bring their dogs to work. According to this principle, employers are not allowed to treat any employee less favourably than other employees unless an objective reason for the unequal treatment exists. Those other employees must, however, possess the same relevant characteristics or be in the same relevant circumstances as the disadvantaged person to make the comparison exercise meaningful. Alternatively, said the employee, bringing the dog to work should be permitted if some type of dog training were to change its behaviour, or if it were to stay in a fenced enclosure in the office, or be kept on a leash and wear a muzzle.
The Labour Court had to decide whether the plaintiff had been treated unequally in the present case because only she had been prohibited from bringing her dog to the office.
The Court decided that the agency was not obliged by the equal treatment principle to allow the plaintiff to bring her dog to work. The main reason given for this was that other employees and even the Managing Director felt threatened by it. This threatening situation disturbed the workflow at the advertising agency. It also had to be borne in mind that at an advertising agency one could expect a lot of lively communication and physical movement within the office space, all of which would tend to irritate the already very irritable animal. Fear of the dog represented a “restriction of the communication and freedom of movement of other colleagues”, not to mention its other contributions to an unpleasant working atmosphere.
Some colleagues no longer felt comfortable at work due to the presence of the dog. The employer had a duty of care with respect to these employees too, found the Court, which justified barring that dog from the office even if other employees were allowed to bring their calmer, quieter and cleaner dogs to work.
The Court did not recognise any legitimate claim to dog training. According to the Court, the plaintiff would not have to be permitted to bring her dog to work even if it were kept in a fenced enclosure, or was on a leash and wearing a muzzle. It would still be sitting propped in a corner, snarling and glaring at her colleagues, as if at its prey (or indeed its lunch), and would still damage the working environment. In that respect the plaintiff employee’s relevant circumstances were different from those of her colleagues.