As much of the nation’s workforce went remote during the Covid-19 outbreak, millions of people saw the perfect opportunity to integrate a dog or cat into their family’s daily routine.
Fast forward more than a year, and now millions of people returning to the physical workplace are reluctant to leave their new companions behind. That makes this the perfect time to ask yourself if your newly reopened workplace should be “pet friendly.” Before you make that decision, there are some practical and legal things to consider.
On the positive side of the ledger, a pet-friendly office could be a valuable tool for employee retention. Having Fido or Fluffy lying at an employee’s feet during the workday could make that person feel more valued. A valued employee is a happy employee, who in turn is usually a more productive employee.
Additionally, in some cases employers may even need to allow pets as a disability accommodation. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that service dogs be permitted in the workplace as long as it does not create an “undue burden” on the employer. The ADA does not require that employers permit “emotional support animals,” but in some cases it may still be worth allowing them as an accommodation if it’s going to help employees do their job.
On the negative side of the ledger, however, not every workplace is appropriate for pets. For example, if the layout of your business doesn’t allow pets to remain in designated areas, it could make things difficult for those uncomfortable with other people’s dogs and cats. Additionally, you would need to find a way to accommodate employees with pet allergies.
It would also be very important to establish a clear, objective approval process. If you subjectively allow some workers to have pets with them while not allowing others, you run the risk of accusations of discrimination. A clear, written policy designating exactly what types of pets can come to work, where they can be and the circumstances that would result in the loss of pet privileges would go a long way toward protecting against such problems.