Many businesses are looking for an advantage in the talent war. While some organizations increase base pay or offer sign-on bonuses, others look for non-monetary options to gain the edge. One such option that is gaining traction is the adoption of pet-friendly workplace policies.
What is a pet-friendly workplace policy?
Pet-friendly workplace policies come in various forms. These policies can range from offering employees the option to purchase discounted pet insurance through payroll deductions to bringing your pet to work policies. Companies have many options and deciding which one to offer will vary according to the company’s size, office space, and workforce.
Perks of pet-friendly policies
A 2016 survey by the Banfield Pet Hospital found that 83% of employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to companies with pet-friendly policies. The survey also found that nearly a two-thirds of millennials asked employers whether they had pet-friendly policies during interviews. As millennials continue to flood the workforce, companies who fail to offer this perk may lose talent to competitors despite offering better wages.
Employers who adopt pet-friendly policies may see additional benefits to offering a pet-friendly workplace. Animals, dogs especially, have the ability to lift the mood of the workplace and help provide much needed stress relief in an office setting. They also provide a great bonding opportunity for staff to interact. Some companies have even seen a decrease in workplace gossip when dogs are introduced as employees spend time talking about the dogs instead of other employees.
Bringing a dog to work can also help to motivate employees to get up and get moving throughout the day instead of staying inactive and seated at their desk for extended periods of time. Dog owners must take their dogs outside for a walk. Employers can integrate a wellness plan around groups going for walks and taking the animals out during break times.
Companies are also finding employees are able to work later instead of rushing out the door to go home and let the dog out. With man’s best friend by her side as she works, an employee can stay until the job is done and not feel the rush of needing to get home to prevent Fido from having an accident.
Under the ADA, employers are required to accommodate employee’s service dog at work if that animal is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Employers do have some ability to prevent service dogs from going to certain areas where they may be a health or safety risk. Additionally, employers are able to set certain requirements on service animals such as required vaccinations, licensed, owner identification tags, leash use, and other reasonable requirements that would not otherwise hinder an individual with a disability to utilize his/her service animal.
Some individuals request their animal to accompany them because it is considered a comfort animal. Comfort animals are not covered under the ADA. Further, comfort animals are usually not specifically trained like service animals. Comfort animals provide companionship to their owners in more broad terms so it is a more difficult process to determine if the comfort animal is truly needed. Utilizing a pet-friendly workplace policy will help establish policies regarding use of comfort animals in the workplace.
Before an employer lets their office go to the dogs (proverbially speaking), they should establish clear policies regarding non-service animals in the workplace. First, the employer should be sure to require that any animal brought to the workplace be up to date on its vaccinations. Additionally, requiring animals to be on a leash or otherwise controlled at all times will be important to prevent chaos and possible workplace mishaps. If the workplace is one that operates most effectively in a quiet environment, then the employer may have rules prohibiting loud animals from being on the premises. Establishing rules and policies to handle misbehaving pets ahead of time will ensure consistent application when problems arise.
Employers should also be careful to establish pet free zones if an employee has allergies to animals or pet dander. Being sensitive and planning ahead for this contingency will make employees who are not able to be around pets feel respected and included in the process. If the office is such that a pet free zone is not possible, then other alternatives such as only allowing allergy friendly animals in the workplace or allowing workers to work remotely can be utilized as well. Each employer should evaluate the workplace environment to decide whether a pet-friendly workplace policy is right for them.
For almost 20 years Kim Lowe has lawyered from the trenches. Kim lawyers from experience, using her knowledge of the law and understanding of how both for-profit and nonprofit business enterprises operate.
Rachell Henning is a third- year student at Mitchell-Hamline School of Law's innovative Hybrid program. Rachell is an Avisen Fellow who enjoys spending time with her husband and two young daughters when she is not working or studying.
Bill Egan is a Seasoned Employment Law Attorney backed by over 33 years of proven, veteran experience. He specializes in navigating businesses through conflict resolution in the workplace.