In some offices, the workplace is looking less like the stereotypical unwelcoming space of the past and more like a place that resembles a home or popular social spot. From fully stocked break rooms to game tables and social events, the office environment is adapting to the changing expectations of a younger generation. In fact, some employers even permit employees to bring pets into work.
This is a major perk for many pet owners who sometimes work long hours and, as a consequence, are forced to neglect their pets. The idea of allowing pets at work is one that many companies are embracing. As an owner or supervisor, a pet-friendly workplace could be viewed as an attractive and substantial perk. But a pet-friendly policy comes with some caveats that should be carefully considered before its implementation. After all, the potential liabilities associated with a pet-friendly workplace go far beyond “casual Fridays” and catered lunches.
Having pets in the workplace can open your business up to a number of liabilities, including issues concerning office health, hygiene, maintenance and even culture. Here are some things to consider before making a decision regarding pets in the workplace:
1. Property Guidelines
If you are renting office space or sharing a building with others, you may not have the ability to decide on a pet policy. The lease or building rules may regulate what you are allowed to do in your office space. Always check these rules before even openly considering the possibility of allowing pets in your workplace. Landlords and other businesses in your complex will make an exception to this when it is a service animal, and you will need to make the proper accommodations for disabled employees.
2. Daily Maintenance
Pets will make messes that can damage property, and they can also engage in distracting behavior that can be difficult for other employees to handle. It’s worth considering the smells, sounds and disruptions that a pet can cause in the workplace, and the resultant consequences should not be discounted either. You may have to increase the frequency of office cleanings or require pet owners to take on some of the cleaning costs and responsibilities.
3. Allergic Reactions
There are some team members who will physically not be able to cope with being around these furry friends. In fact, it can cause their throats to close, their eyes to water and make them ill. This issue is actually covered under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, which states that employees are to be provided with a workplace that doesn’t cause them to have allergic reactions. This is a significant liability issue, especially if you are allowing pets into the workplace for a perk and not because they are service animals.
4. Personal Injury
Even well-behaved pets can have a moment where they feel threatened and resort to aggressive behavior. While every pet owner believes that their pet is better behaved than others, pets can scratch, bite or maim with the slightest provocation, especially in the presence of new environments and people. As the business owner, you are liable for any injuries that occur at your location, including employees, vendors or clients. The pet owner or business owner can carry pet insurance to address this issue. As a supervisor, you might consider having such insurance mandatory should you decide to allow pets at work.
5. Work Productivity
There are two schools of thought on pets in the workplace. One claims that employees are happier when they have their furry friends, boosting office moral and productivity in the process. Others claim that pets are a distraction to not only the pet owners but those around them as well. As co-workers stop to pet the animals or take them out for walks, these activities can take time away from their work. They may even lose focus from the tasks at hand.
Dealing With Sensitive Pet Owners and Employees
Pets are commonly considered to be part of the family, and protective owners go to great lengths to ensure they are treated as such by others. Pet owners are frequently certain their choice of animal (e.g. dog, cat, bird, turtle, etc.) is the best one, and it can be difficult to persuade them to be open-minded about other types. As trite as it sounds, a policy that dictates which pets are allowed and which are not can be a source of contention. If you do choose to allow pets at your workplace, make sure that the reasons used to permit or prohibit animals are communicated transparently to your employees in your pet policy.
While many people enjoy the company of their pets and animals in general, some will be less than thrilled with the prospect, and the presence of an animal can make many feel uncomfortable. This can make the workplace feel hostile and can leave the employer or supervisor dealing with employee dissatisfaction. This could lead to potential lawsuits if you are found liable for creating a hostile environment. Always take the time to listen to your employees and ensure them that their voices are being heard. If there are mostly positive feelings about pets in your workplace, consider a trial period where it is allowed, and then solicit honest feedback so you can decide whether or not to make it a full-time perk for your staff. If there are mixed feelings, err on the side of caution.