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The Practical Employer

Pets in Your Workplace? Assess the Risks and Draft a Policy

There are very few resources on the internet to help. And, you will need a written policy before you allow pets in.
A reader recently emailed the following question:

Some people need service dogs to get to work. But many more simply want to take their dogs to work. What is the protocol? What are the HR rules on this? And what are the penalties for illegally taking a dog to work?

Are you thinking about opening up your business to employees’ pets? You will find very few resources on the internet to help. And, you will need a written policy before you allow pets in. Here are some considerations:

People come first. Despite your desire to allow pets — whether as a perk, a recruitment tool or both — your employees still make up the core of your enterprise. If you have to choose between an employee or a pet, you should always choose the employee.

One of the biggest legal risks is the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee is allergic to animals, pet owners must understand that they may have to leave their animals at home as a reasonable accommodation. Other possible accommodations include creating sufficient separation between the allergic employee and the pet, segregating the pet to a specific part of the facility, or improving ventilation. Ignoring the pleas of an allergic employee, though, will open you up to potential ADA liability. On the converse, in all but the most extreme circumstances, you are likely required to allow a service dog (or miniature horse) as a reasonable accommodation, even if you prohibit all other pets.

Remember: Pets are cute, but it’s people first in the workplace.

Animals must of “office broken.” Animals with any bite history should not be permitted. Moreover, any aggressive behavior, such as growling, barking, chasing, or biting, should result in the animal’s expulsion on the first complaint. Animals should also be house broken, friendly towards people and other animals, and not protective of their owners or their owners’ spaces. Finally, you should define when animals must be leashed or caged, and what is expected of employees when they have to leave the workplace during the work day.

Respect for property. Designate a specific area outside for animals to go to the bathroom (preferably away from the entrances), and make sure pet owners understand that it is their responsibility to clean up messes outside and accidents inside.

Licenses and vaccinations. Before being permitted to bring animals to work, owners should verify that vaccinations are up to date, and that the animal licensed and free of parasites and insects.

Liability. Employees should verify, in writing, that they have sufficient home owners’ or renters’ insurance to cover any damage to person or property caused by the animal. You should also consider indemnification in case your business gets sued, and a written paycheck deduction authorization for any damage caused.

If you are considering having a pet-friendly workplace, I recommend contacting employment counsel to walk you through the risks and to assist in drafting an appropriate policy.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.