Animals in the Workplace & Pet Friendly Businesses

Animals in the Workplace & Pet Friendly Businesses

Take Your Dog to WorkJune 21st is national Take Your Dog to Work Day.  This day highlights the benefits of being an animal friendly business.

Regardless of your own personal pet-preferences, studies have shown that adopting an animal-friendly workplace policy can benefit employees and businesses both!

Pet-friendly employment is a great recruiting tool:

Recruiting good employees can be tricky, and costly, especially if you’re a small business.  There are many people who are seeking dog-friendly work environments, and adding this inexpensive perk can help to recruit the right person.

You can even list your business as “dog-friendly” in your recruiting ads, potentially attracting applicants that will give up higher salaries or better benefits in order to be able to bring their dog to work.  Also, when an employee is able to bring their dog to work with them, they often will be more likely to stay with their employer, rather than to look for a new position and risk losing this valued privilege.

The benefits of a pet-friendly work environment:

There are many other benefits to creating a pet-friendly work environment.

  • Studies have also shown that employees have higher morale and better camaraderie with each other when there are pets in the office
  • Some companies feel that dogs in the workplace reduce their risk of crime
  • Employees are better able to work overtime when they don’t have to go home to let the dog out or feed them
  • Dogs in the office can often reduce employees’ stress and increase their enjoyment at work (there are countless studies on the therapeutic benefits of interacting with animals)

However, as with everything, there’s always a downside as well.  Some employees may be allergic to animals, or even afraid of them.  Therefore, having a solid policy helps to mitigate these concerns.

Pet-friendly companies must have well-thought-out policies:

Leash rules: It’s important that animals in the office be kept on leashes.  A leash rule helps to calm the concerns of those who are afraid or uncomfortable with dogs.  Guests coming to the office should never by surprised by a dog rushing up to them.  A leash rule also helps to keep dogs from fighting with one another.  Dogs should never be off leash unless they’re in a closed office or a space with a baby gate to restrict their movement.

Good behavior rules: Only dogs on good behavior should be allowed to come to work.  An aggressive dog has no place in the office.  Dogs that bark incessantly, growl, snarl, or bite should never be in the office.  Dogs that aren’t fully potty trained can be a problem as well. It’s a good idea to set a limit on how many times a dog can have an accident before being banned.

Allergy accommodations: If an employee has pet allergies, you can still be dog friendly by making some compromises:

  • Keep dogs in a separate work area from any allergic employees.
  • Restrict animals from common spaces, such as restrooms, lunchrooms, and meeting rooms.
  • Ask employees with pets to provide portable air purifiers for their workspace.
  • Make sure that your office is thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, including vacuuming and dusting, and that air filters are changed on schedule.

Shot documentation requirements: All dog owners should provide proof that their pet is current on their shots.  In addition, all dogs should be flea-free before coming to the office.  Employees must be sure they always have sufficient food, water, treats and toys for their dog in order to keep the animal happy and quiet.

Designated walking zones:  Designate an area outside the office where employees can walk their dogs. Require them to stay with their canine pals, and to use a scooper and bag to clean up after them.  You should provide a garbage can nearby where the refuse can be discarded, and empty it out at least once a week.

Service animals in the workplace:

Even if you don’t become a dog friendly environment, you could find yourself having to accommodate a service dog.

Service animals are used for a wide variety of impairments, including sight impairments, hearing impairments, seizure disorders, motor impairments, and even some psychiatric impairments.  If your company is faced with accommodating a service animal, the EEOC and ADA have guidelines to assist you.

  • You cannot discriminate against an applicant or employee who requires a service animal to help them overcome limitations resulting from a disability. 
  • You do have the right to ask for proof that the service animal is required for accommodating a disability.

You also have the right to know that the animal has been properly trained, and to expect the animal to not be a disruption in your workplace.  You can require your employee to properly care for their animal while at work.  This includes taking it outside to relieve itself, keeping the animal out of the way of other employees, and having the animal’s shots and flea prevention program up to date.

  • You cannot set a “no animals” policy and apply that to someone who has a service animal. 
  • You do not have the right to suggest alternate accommodations to having the service animal at work, as you are then interfering with your employees’ medical care. 

Additionally, if your office does have a service animal, it’s important to educate everyone on its role.  Service animals are working animals and not pets.  They shouldn’t be touched, fed, or played with without the permission of its owner.

Test a pet-friendly workplace by celebrating Take Your Dog to Work Day:

If you’re not sure whether or not you’d like to become a dog-friendly workplace, you can take a trial run by participating in national Take Your Dog to Work Day.  (In our office, everyone that participates will be donating $10 to their favorite animal charity for the privilege.  Thus, we have turned an employee perk into fundraising for a great cause!)

Guidelines for Take Your Dog to Work Day can be found on the internet.  Some good tips for success include:

  • Being sure your dog is bathed
  • Bringing pet-safe disinfectant and spot cleaner
  • Dog-proofing your workspace in advance
  • Never allowing your dog to lick or jump on anyone without their prior permission

The wrap-up:

Keep in mind that dogs aren’t the only options for the office either.  We love our office beta fish, Mort.  Keeping Mort healthy and happy is a great group effort, as various employees feed him, clean his bowl, talk to him, and make funny faces at him throughout the day.

We spend a great deal of our time in our offices.  Having our best friends there can be a huge benefit.  With a little research and thought, you may find that there’s a place for pets in your office.  If nothing else, how about a fish?

Originally published in the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.

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