Earlier this year, I flew to the east coast and found myself seated in a row with a Hollywood actress. The two of us shared a three-seat row and, delighted to have the empty seat between us, I settled in for the long flight. Immediately after take off, the actress leaned down and pulled out of her carry on a small, somewhat scruffy, dog. The little guy stretched out on the middle seat and promptly fell asleep. As time passed, the dog inched his way closer and closer to me, and half way through the flight, was pressed firmly against my leg, snoring contentedly.
I am an animal lover and had no issues with a stranger’s dog snuggling next to me. I recognized that not everyone would react the same in my situation. Many people are afraid of dogs (even the pint-sized critter next to me), are allergic to them, or think they are unclean and flea-ridden. Naturally, employment lawyer that I am, I thought about how dogs at work might pose issues for employers.
Companies that allow employees to bring dogs to work (for reasons other than accommodating a disability) should consider drafting a policy that addresses several issues that might arise from the presence of dogs and which takes into account the dog owner’s responsibilities as well as the needs of co-workers.
As a preliminary matter, an employer should consider whether its pet friendly policy is limited to dogs, or if employees can bring other animals to work. These policies are entirely discretionary so employers may, if they choose, decide they do not want to extend this benefit to iguana, parrot and cat owners.
Here are a few things to consider in drafting a policy on dogs at work:
Reactions of Co-Workers and Clients: A dog-friendly policy must take into account that not everyone likes dogs. Some people are afraid of dogs, even small breeds. A policy can require that dogs be restrained, either on a leash or in a confined space, such as a crate. This not only protects the company and the dog owner from liability for a dog bite or injury, it will reassure nervous co-workers.
Allergies: A policy might also require the dog owner to ascertain if any co-workers who sit in close proximity have pet allergies before allowing employees to bring Fido to work. Employers might consider designating “pet-friendly” and “pet-free” zones and allow employees to move their workspaces accordingly. Absent such zones, employers must decide if they will allow pet owners to move their work spaces away from allergic co-workers or whether a co-worker’s allergies will bar the owner from bringing a pet to work.
Safety: The policy should require that all owners provide proof that the dog has a current license and all vaccinations. A policy can also require that dogs have obedience training before coming to work.
Distraction and Destruction: A dog policy can also require that dogs not create unnecessary distraction for the owner or co-workers. For example, owners cannot spend excessive time tending to the dogs needs, including walking the dog throughout the day, and should ensure that a dog is quiet and does not distract others. Of course, dog owners can be held responsible for any damage caused by their animals.
Employers may find that allowing employees to bring their dogs to work boosts morale and, in turn, job satisfaction and productivity. For such a practice to be successful, it must also take into account the reactions of co-workers and clients. A carefully drafted policy will go a long way to ensuring that everyone is happy with the presence of dogs at the workplace.