Pets at work are an often contentious issue. Some people would love to take their pets to work with them to avoid leaving them home alone all day, to save money on doggie daycare, to be able to socialize with their pet during the day, and because they think "everyone will love seeing my dog."
Having pets in a workplace could be a great way to improve employee morale and for some people could be a recruitment tool. It might boost productivity if people are happier and not rushing home because they think their dog’s bladder is about to burst (or, more likely, their floor is about to get peed on).
However, it could also be a great way to create strife and legal concerns. Personally, I have no problems walking into a store and seeing a dog or cat wandering around. That being said, I have above-average exposure to animals and am not deathly afraid or allergic. I’m also (currently… hopefully) not highly immunocompromised and at increased risk of an infection from a pet.
No two workplaces are exactly the same. Some businesses might be able to do it right. Some might not. Some might be willing to put the effort into it as a way to boost morale and attract good employees, some might think it’s a hassle worth avoiding. If a company allows pets or is thinking of allowing pets in the workplace, they need to consider some important points:
- Are any people that MIGHT come into contact with the animals fearful or allergic? This is difficult to determine unless you have a small workplace and good communications. People that are allergic or fearful might not voluntarily offer that information because of various reasons, so just saying "if no one raises a concern, everyone’s happy" doesn’t always work.
- Will there be any potential contact with the general public? If so, that complicates matters greatly.
- Are there ways to properly contain and control the pets? Will the pets be allowed to roam free, be kept in the owners office, or be kept in a dedicated kennel area, away from anyone who doesn’t want to see them? The more they can be contained, the better. Ideally, there would be a kennel area away from anyone who doesn’t want to be in contact with the animals, but close enough that it is easy for owners to check on their pets and take proper care of them.
- Will having pets there be a disruption to the owner or other employees? A happy workforce is more productive. That’s the ideal situation. A workforce distracted by a playful puppy or a cat who loves to flop across your keyboard may not be as efficient.
- Is there an area where a dog can be safely walked to urinate and defecate?
- Are there any reasons that having a pet there causes an unacceptable public health concern (e.g. restaurants).
- Is the business willing to accept the liability issues that come with having animals there? If a pet bites or scratches someone, the business’ name will be first and foremost on the lawsuit, I assume.
- Will the business create a written protocol to address animals in the workplace? This would cover things like where to keep the animal, how to handle it, preventive medicine requirements (e.g. rabies vaccination), when the animal can’t come to work (e.g. when it’s sick) and other relevant factors.
- Is there a way to modify the policy over time if something happens? For example, if a new employee is hired and is severely allergic, will the rules be changed? If so, are people notified up front that while they may be able to bring their pets to work now, that can change at any time?
If the workplace can’t consider and address all of these areas, then pets are clearly not appropriate. If they can, then there may not be a problem. The key is thinking about these issues in advance, not after:
- the pet has bitten some who is now upset, threatening to sue and demanding proof of rabies vaccination
- a person that gets fired claims their poor job performance was because they were afraid of the dog and also afraid of speaking up about it
- the dog causes a disease outbreak
- the public health department comes in to investigate an inappropriate situation
Photo credit: James Cheng (source: www.msnbc.msn.com)