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Pets in the Workplace: Policies and Guidelines, Part 3
May 28, 2013
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This is the final part of the three part series addressing pets in the workplace. The first post discussed the benefits of allowing pets in the workplace. This second post provided insight into the legal liabilities of having pets in the office and other litigation that has occurred in this area. This final post provides information on how to assess if pets in the workplace are right for your company and what should be incorporated into a workplace pet policy.

Should Your Company Allow Pets?

Whether or not to allow dogs or other pets in the office is a business decision.  Businesses, such as food or hospital settings, should not allow pets for sanitary reasons, but for the majority of businesses the answer to this question isn’t as clear. Typically, a decision to allow pets should be decided from the inception of the company, which makes it part of the work culture.  If the pet policy is changed, it works best in small to medium-sized businesses with fewer employees and personalities involved. 

Steps to Take When Allowing Pets in the Workplace

The failure to create a comprehensive policy for pets and to enforce the policy could lead to serious issues among your employees and/or clients that could expose your business to legal ramifications.  If a pet bites a coworker, you may be liable.  If an employee has allergies, the business will need to take that into account before creating a pet friendly workplace.  Therefore, it is essential to create a realistic pet policy that fits your specific workplace.

First, a business survey its employees to assess overall opinions on having pets in the office. The questions should inquire into potential allergies as well. While a company may be able to rearrange employees to keep distance from other coworkers’ pets, this may not be feasible.

When permitting pets, an employer should:

  • Require the owner be in complete control of the animal at all times, 
  • Require employees to bring documentation showing the pet is up to date on its vaccinations,
  • Require owners have comprehensive liability insurance covering all injuries,
  • Expect employees to sign an indemnification agreement to pay the cost of defending any lawsuit relating to a dog-bite, and
  • Require owners to have a way to transport the animal in the event it creates a problem at the office.

Any pet brought to the office must be well behaved and not aggressive. An employer cannot allow pets that are not housebroken or bark excessively. A business should consider a no-tolerance or a three-strike policy that prohibits dogs that break the policy.

Additionally, if the premises are being leased, a company must check with its property owner prior to allowing dogs in the workplace. Ensure you check the lease to determine whether this is covered, but when in doubt ask for written permission.

Opening your office doors to pets is a minimal way to keep employees happy and ideally more productive.  If you decide to do so, create a comprehensive pet-policy that fits your company and fosters a safe and happy environment for all employees. A company should also consider contacting an attorney before allowing any pets in the workplace to address potential liability and create an appropriate policy.