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Mental Health, Animals in The Workplace

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Mental Health, Animals in The Workplace, Unfair Dismissal Australia

Every recession and tragedy in history has shown that people consequently suffer great detriment and negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, due to harsh economic circumstances. The possible mental health impacts correlated with the imminent economic recession and the coronavirus pandemic is a prominent topic of discussion amongst health professionals and government. With such alarming forecasted figures of the psychological toll on Australians, as a direct result of COVID-19, we are increasingly concerned for our Australian workforce.

Day in, day out, we hear the stories of employees from all over Australia who suffer from poor mental health as either a result of hostile and unsupportive work environments or extraneous circumstances. Redundancies, unfair dismissals, discrimination sexual harassment in these dark times is on the increase. With the projected statistics pertaining to declining mental health, it is imperative that employers create safe and compassionate work environments for their more vulnerable employees.

An increasingly popular method of treating anxiety is to have service dogs or companion animals as they can help ease the effects of panic attacks, provide a sense of calm and even get your medication for you if need be. Other animals that have scientifically proven to help people reduce their anxiety and stress levels are rabbits, fish, guinea pigs, horses and cats. Considering your work may be the most stressful part of your life and the biggest cause for anxiety, you would want your anxiety animal to accompany you. But how appropriate is it to bring your emotional support animal present with you in your workplace?   

We previously had a client who was terminated from her employment for bringing in her support dog to work. This made us curious as to whether employers would see a rise in employees wanting to bring their support animals to the workplace after COVID-19 and the subsequent economic depression. Would it be fair to discriminate against an employee who simply uses an animal in the stead of medication which could impair cognitive functioning or have other health side effects? Is it our human right to be able to treat our illnesses in the way that we think is best?

Our answer to this is to be rational and reasonable. If you currently or will benefit and rely on a support animal in the future and you wish to bring them into your workplace, we suggest you have a healthy and open conversation with your employer on whether this would be appropriate and whether it could be facilitated. It might be interesting for you to know that one of the biggest American corporations, Amazon, allows their Australian employees to bring their pet animals into work! Unfortunately, it will most likely not be appropriate if you work as a nurse in aged care or a hospital, or in any workplace that requires the highest level of hygiene.

We sincerely hope employers will open their minds to the reality of the serious mental health concerns we will be facing in the near future in light of COVID-19 and the economic downturn. If, however, you feel as if you have been unfairly dismissed for exercising your human right to bring your support animal to work, give us a call immediately and we will do our best to help protect your rights.

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