To improve employees’ work-life balance, many employers are starting to allow their employees to bring their pets to the workplace. Allowing pets in the workplace can offer several benefits. Time Magazine reports that pets at work can increase feelings of social support and help people with mental health issues. Research published in the International Journal of Research and Environmental Health found that pets in the workplace can decrease stress and improve productivity. News in Health, a publication of the National Institutes of Health, reports that people’s levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released when people feel stressed or anxious, are lower when they interact with pets.
While these are important benefits, employers must still carefully consider whether to allow pets in the workplace. They should think about the potential impacts on other employees, customers, clients, custodial staff, and others before deciding to make their companies pet-friendly. Here are some steps employers should take before allowing their employees to bring their pets with them to work.
Make Sure Everyone Agrees
Before employers write policies to allow pets in the workplace, they should first meet with all of their employees to get their input. When an employee brings his or her pet to work, it affects everyone in the workplace. Some employees might be afraid of dogs or have allergies to cats or dogs. Others might simply dislike dogs or cats or feel like having animals in the workplace would be distracting. Allowing pets in the workplace might also cause sanitation issues that will need to be addressed daily. All of these factors should be considered before writing a pet policy.
When the input of employees is sought, it helps to make them feel valued and improves morale. Employers should meet with all employees and ask for their input before allowing pets in the workplace. It is best for employers to only allow pets in the workplace if all of the employees who would be impacted by the decision are in complete agreement. Deciding to allow some employees to bring pets to work when others have valid concerns could lead to lowered morale and higher turnover rates.
Recognize the Risks
If your employees all agree that having pets in the workplace is a good idea, you should still consider the risks before moving forward with your pet policy. There will always be a degree of risk from having pets in the workplace, including health concerns such as allergies and the potential for dog bites. While these risks might not outweigh the benefits of having a pet-friendly workplace, employers must still be aware of them before moving forward with their pet policies.
Allergies to cats and dogs are very common. ABC News reports that 15% of the population has a pet allergy. Among people who have asthma, 30% have allergies to cats or dogs. If you have employees who have pet allergies and decide to allow pets in the office anyway, your company could face potential legal liability. Since pet allergies might be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, you will need to reasonably accommodate any employees that ask for pets to be disallowed.
For example, you could designate areas where pets are not allowed to go in the workplace by creating pet-free zones. Frequent cleaning and sanitization can also help, and installing a good ventilation system with HEPA filters could reduce the spread of allergens.
Every dog or cat has the potential to bite even though they might be well-trained and mild-mannered. Dogs can get over-excited or be spooked, leading them to bite others. According to American Family Physician, dogs are the culprits in 85% to 95% of animal bite cases. Cats are responsible for 5% to 10% of animal bite injuries.
When employers allow pets at work, there is a risk that someone might be bitten. Dog bites at work can result in legal liability for the company as well as the dog’s owner. Falls at work caused by dogs can also open businesses and dog owners up to potential liability. These types of risks must be addressed before allowing pets at work. Businesses might want to have their attorneys prepare indemnification agreements for pet owners to sign before they can bring their pets to work in which they agree to pay any damages suffered by their co-workers in dog or cat attacks.
Set Clear Rules
A written pet policy that includes easily understandable rules is important before pets are allowed in the workplace. Having clearly defined rules for pets in the workplace can help to prevent potential problems. Some of these rules should include the following:
- Where pets are allowed in the office
- Vaccination requirements before pets can be brought to the office
- Proof that pets have up-to-date vaccinations
- Who will be responsible for replacing or repairing items that pets damage
- Circumstances under which pet owners might be told they cannot bring their pets back to work
Designating pet-free zones and requiring pets to be fully vaccinated before they can be brought to the workplace can prevent problems. Employers might also want to consider the circumstances under which a pet’s owner might be told not to bring his or her pet back.
Consider Remote Workers
Since many employees work from home, employers should also remember to take them and their pets into account when they write their pet policies. While a pet policy for remote workers does not have to be the same as it is for people who work on-site, employers may want to think about other factors. For example, employers might want to address whether pets can be present during meetings on Skype or Zoom.
While a cat walking in front of a laptop screen occasionally might be cute, it can also be distracting to both the pet owner and the other participants. Similarly, a barking dog in the room can disrupt an online meeting. A pet policy for remote workers might also address how long or how often they can spend caring for their pets during working hours.
Determine How You Will Handle Issues
If you decide to allow employees to bring pets to work, you will need to decide in advance how issues will be handled. Minor mishaps or incidents are almost inevitable when pets are allowed in the workplace. For example, a dog might have an accident, and you will need to decide who will have to clean it up. A cat’s litterbox will need to be changed each day, and steps will need to be taken to reduce pet hair in the office.
Employers should establish a system through which other employees can submit complaints surrounding animals in the workplace. They might also want to consider the criteria for when certain employees might lose their privilege to bring their pets to the workplace because of damage, barking, disruptions, injuries, or other similar problems.
Pet-Proof the Office
Pet-proofing the office is also important to protect the safety and health of pets that are brought into the workplace. Some of the ways that employers can pet-proof their workplaces include the following:
- Use childproof latches to keep pets out of cabinets.
- Use covered trashcans to keep them from getting into garbage.
- Store chemicals in locked cabinets away from animals.
- Store food out of reach.
- Secure any dangling wires so pets can’t pull down electronics or other items.
- Move poisonous houseplants out of the office.
- Use gates to keep animals out of pet-free zones.
Do a Trial Run
Before implementing a pet-friendly workplace policy, it is a good idea to do a trial run first to see how it goes. For example, you could have a “take your dog to work” day to identify any unforeseen issues. If you do have this type of event at your workplace, make sure to accommodate employees who do not want to be around pets in the office and allow them to work from home that day. You will want to plan a pet policy in advance and provide any necessary accommodations. Doing a trial run can help you to determine whether moving forward with a pet-friendly policy will work before you commit to this type of change.
Solicit and Assess Feedback
After you complete a trial run, make sure to ask for feedback from your employees about how it went. Getting feedback from your employees can help you to make changes to your planned pet policy to address any issues that might have arisen. Assess the feedback you receive to shape your pet policy and decide whether you should move forward with it.
Update the Policy As Needed
Once you have carefully assessed everything and have taken steps to create a pet-friendly office policy, you can then implement it. You will want to meet with all of your staff again to announce the policy and ask for additional feedback, making changes as needed. Your company should also be open to updating the pet policy when new concerns arise.
Allowing pets at work can provide multiple benefits to pet owners and their co-workers. However, employers should carefully consider all of the different factors surrounding animals in the workplace, including how any related issues will be handled if pets are allowed.