Q: We are considering becoming a “pet-friendly” workplace. Can we just put the word out there and caution employees about proper etiquette, or are there some legal issues we need to be aware of?
A: Research does seem to indicate significant positive consequences of a pet-friendly workplace, and allowing employees to bring pets to work on a regular basis is a growing trend, albeit a modest one.
A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that from 2011 to 2015, the prevalence of pet-friendly policies has ranged from a low of 4% to a high of 8%. The high occurred in 2015.
Some employers will be required, as a reasonable accommodation under the disability laws, to allow service or emotional support animals that facilitate performance of essential job functions by an employee with a documented disability.
But the entirely discretionary step of opening the company doors to dogs (and other nonhuman creatures) should be carefully thought through and structured as you might with other management initiatives.
A comprehensive workplace policy may be the most suitable vehicle for implementing such a program.
Before you proceed, however, consider the following important issues:
- You’ll need senior executive permission
- If your workspace is not company owned, you will need landlord approval. As with some residential tenancies, some commercial real estate leases forbid pets or, if not specifically addressed, pets might be banned under a nuisance clause.
- Age restrictions (e.g., no puppies)
- Training, to avoid disruptive behavior
- Pet-related emergencies
- Breed or species restrictions (breed biases are not yet illegal under discrimination laws)
- Behavioral etiquette (pet to people, pet to pet, and owner obligations)
- Safety of people and pets in complex, fast-paced work environments
- Vaccinations and other veterinary issues (fleas, ticks, spay/neutering, etc.)
- Containment, feeding, and play and toileting areas (in good weather and bad)
- Cleaning paws and floors after returning from outside
- The effect of pets on the integrity of business operations (product contamination, customer/employee fear, distraction), insurance (homeowner and/or business liability coverage for untoward incidents)
If none of the above deters you, and your effort proves successful, you may then move on to the “pets-at-work 2.0” employee benefits program: dog walking services, cat litter box cleaning, doggie daycare, pet insurance, grooming, and pet bereavement days.