Many dog lovers think their job, and their job performance, would be better if they could bring their pet to work. And there are studies that show that allowing dogs in the workplace reduces stress – resulting in happier and even more productive and efficient employees – and even increased teamwork.
So every office should open its doors to Fido, right? Well, don’t throw open the doggie-door quite yet. While it might be tempting, employers have a few issues to consider from a legal, business and office culture perspective before offering a blanket policy allowing dogs.
There are certainly reasons to allow pooches in the workplace, and as a dog lover, I often wonder what my day would look like if I could bring my dog with me to the office. Then I realize that my wonderful, loving, but rambunctious dog is probably not office appropriate.
Dog-friendly workplaces indicate that the employer is relaxed and forward thinking about office culture generally, and that type of environment is appealing to employees.
Even so, employers have to weight the positives with the potential negatives. For example, what do you do about aggressive dogs? While dog owners will tell you, “Don’t worry my dog wont bite,” it’s not always true. Even the most mild-mannered pup may get aggressive when put into an uncomfortable situation, perhaps including eight to 10 hours in an office building with many new faces and possible several unfamiliar dogs.
Employers should decide whether they are willing to face the possibility that an employee-owned dog becomes aggressive with an employee, customer or visitor. If so, employers should be sure that they have appropriate insurance for that possibility. And while you’re at it, check your building’s lease to ensure dogs are allowed.
Employers also have to take into consideration the reaction of non-dog lovers before implementing a dog-friendly policy, and even further how to address employees with allergies. As hard as it is for dog lovers to understand, some people just do not like dogs and do not want to spend 40 (or more) hours each week with “those animals.”
How do you justify to an employee with a serious dog allergy that he or she might have to buy stock in Zyrtec in order to continue working? And might you be required to accommodate and employee’s allergies under the Americans with Disabilities Act? While the specific facts and circumstances would dictate whether an allergy would be a disability under the ADA, the possibility may be enough for some employers to choose not to implement a pet-friendly policy.
For those who still feel strongly about dogs in the workplace, they should remember they may be required to provide ADA separate pet-friendly and no-pet areas, requiring dogs on leashes, and making sure pet owners focus on pet hygiene.
Are You Really Dog-Friendly?
Finally, is being a dog-friendly workplace representative of the employer’s actual office culture? Take a close look at whether your workplace is appropriate for animals. If an employer is going to feel uncomfortable with the idea of customers and clients coming into the office where they will be greeted by a four-legged friend, then there is no reason for the employer to try to force a culture that does not fit with his or her business needs.
In a manufacturing business, it would be unsafe for animals to be allowed in the workplace. No matter how badly a company’s employees love the idea of having Rex sit at their feet during the workday, and employer should not acquiesce to their desire if it is directly opposed to the culture the employer wants to instill or the business in which it is engaged.
If you decide your office culture can include dogs, managing such issues can be (and should be) addressed by implementing a detailed policy. The policy should include, among others, an animal background check (assuring the dog has not been aggressive previously), allowing only housebroken and vaccinated dogs, requiring certain cleaning and hygiene requirements, requiring the use of a leash in certain parts of the office (if not all), creating a no-dog area for those who are not themselves dog-friendly or allergic, and implementing a zero-tolerance policy.
While dogs in the workplace may fit into the business and office culture of certain workplaces, employers should be cautious of the potential pitfalls and make sure they have a policy that addresses these possibilities.
Attorney Katie Kiernan Marble is a litigation associate at The McLane Law Firm in Manchester. She can be reached at (603) 628-1490 or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mclane.com.