Fleas In The Office

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pests at work: we are itching and scratching even if they haven’t already spread to our office.

There was a rumour regarding fleas in the workplace a week or two ago and like so many things here it only got ignored. Now the sightings have been confirmed by multiple sources and the placebo effect has already hit my department and we are itching and scratching even if they haven’t already spread to our office. Is there any UK/English law that states the infestation has to be cleared up before it is a safe working environment. Personally I am not allowed pets at home and until some sort of legal action or workers strike is threatened nothing will get done about this. In short, do I have any rights not to work in a flea infested environment?

Signed, Flea Frustrated

DearĀ Flea Frustrated:

Hello and forgive us if this response has been delayed. I wrote a long reply after receiving your question, but believe a glitch in our process either deleted it or delayed it. If you’ve received a response from us already, I hope it was helpful and that you have been able to find a resolution to the flea situation. As I mentioned in my first response, you would need to check with your local or regional department of health or department of labor, to find out about employer requirements and employee rights about something like this. I would certainly think there would be a regulation, since flea bites can be harmful and since anyone working in that situation could transport fleas into other areas and businesses as well as taking them home to infest things there. I also mentioned that the big issue is whether or not there are, in fact, fleas. Do some Internet research and you’ll find that they tend to bite in clusters of three bites, then three more bites, then three more, etc. So, if someone has had fleas on their skin, they will do more than itch, they’ll have quite a few clusters of flea bites. There are also several Internet articles that discuss how to find out if there are fleas in an area. But, the one thing I do know, having worked in a pet shop for a number of years, long ago, is that fleas are very, very difficult to get rid of. It can be done, but it takes multiple fumigating sessions and lots of deep cleaning, vacuuming and throwing the bag away immediately, washing things in very hot water, and in some cases wrapping upholstered items in plastic before throwing them away. All of those may be necessary in your workplace. I would think that your supervisors and managers are dealing with the same issues as employees, even if they only have to spend a short amount of time in the work area. But, hopefully, providing proof of the problem will get their attention. Someone has brought the fleas into the area and that needs to be determined as well. Otherwise it will happen again.

The person who had fleas clinging to their clothing, from a pet or from being in an area that was infested, should certainly have bites, so you might be able to tell in that way. You could also provide a bit of help by copying some items from the Internet to give to coworkers, that might give them some tips for ridding their homes of the problem. That would help the rest of you, ultimately. The bottom line is that I do think there are likely some regulations about this issue, but they vary from place to place, so you would need to check with government agencies that regulate that type of thing in your area. In the meantime, maybe you can take the lead in helping your workplace calm down and get comfortable again. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out. We could share your experiences when others write to us about similar situations.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.