Should You Have a Workplace Pet Policy?
With many employees returning to the workplace and employers trying to improve employee retention, many are grappling with requests to allow pets in the office. In this article, I’ll be discussing some of the factors to consider in evaluating these requests. I also provide sample policy templates and additional resources to use in creating your company’s pet policy (whether you decide for or against allowing pets) at the bottom of this article.
It is important to remember that we are not talking about service animals when we talk about workplace pet policies. You may be required to consider a service animal in your workplace as a reasonable accommodation if one of your employees has a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outside of any pet policy you implement.
When deciding on whether to allow pets, the first thing to determine is if your workplace is a safe environment or conducive to allowing pets. Local health regulations prohibit pets in many types of environments and places with heavy machinery or manufacturing may be dangerous for both workers and pets if a pet gets loose from its confined area.
Second, you should determine if your landlord (if you the employer are not the building owner) allows non-service animal pets on the premises. In many commercial leases, pets on premises violates certain lease parameters.
Third, you should check with your insurance carriers. Some general liability policies exclude coverage of incidents involving non-service animals in the workplace or require additional coverage. On the worker’s compensation side, typically an employee who sustains an injury or illness that can be attributed to factors in the workplace (e.g. dog bite) is eligible for workers’ compensation. Even if your general liability carrier covers pets in the workplace, your written pet policy should take steps to mitigate any harm or illness having pets on site would cause the workforce. Some employees may have allergies to certain kinds of pets. If your staff is in a more open setting vs. offices, this alone can be a reason not to allow pets on site.
This is a careful balancing act as most employers intend to use pet-friendly policies to retain workers, not cause workers to quit.
If you have outside clients, vendors and partners that come on-site, you will also need to consider the impact your pet policy has on them. You’ll also need to consider in your pet policy what types of pets are allowed.
If you decide to allow pets in the workplace, create an approval process to address all relevant criteria, including type of pet and health standards. All requests and accompanying approvals/denials should be formally documented. In addition to the sample policies we’ve provided below, we encourage employers to visit Better Cities for Pets and review their PETS WORK AT WORK™ Toolkit as well as consult with your own legal counsel to discuss your company’s specific situation before rolling out a workplace pet policy.
Policy A: If you determine you are unable to allow pets in the workplace:
[Company] is responsible for providing a healthy and safe work environment for all employees. At this time, [due to lease and insurance requirements] pets are not allowed in the [company] workplace. Pets may pose a threat of infection or disease and may cause allergic reactions in other employees. Some employees may feel threatened or distracted by the presence of pets.
An employee who requires the help of a service animal (defined by 28 CFR 36.104 as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability") will be permitted to bring a service animal to the office, provided that the animal’s presence does not create a danger to others and does not impose an undue hardship upon the company.
Policy B: If you determine you ARE able allow pets in the workplace:
[Company] is responsible for providing a healthy and safe work environment for all employees. [Company] has created a policy balancing these concerns with the desire to promote a positive work experience by allowing appropriate pets in the office. This workplace pet policy applies only to employees. As it would be too difficult to track and monitor compliance, visitor pets, including those from customers and vendors are not allowed in the office at this time.
As part of this policy, a pet may be allowed in the office if its health and behavior are acceptable within an office setting, and if it does not adversely affect office operations. A pet owner wishing to bring a pet to the office should first obtain written permission from his or her immediate supervisor and then the HR Department documenting that they will adhere to this pet policy. Approval must be obtained before the pet’s first day on-site.
For those employees requiring the help of a service animal, please direct those requests directly to the HR department. An employee who requires the help of a service animal (defined by 28 CFR 36.104 as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability") will be permitted to bring a service animal to the office, provided that the animal’s presence does not create a danger to others and does not impose an undue hardship upon the company. Please make sure your service animal is registered with our HR department prior to its first on-site visit.
The privilege of bringing a pet to work is secondary to the health, safety, and comfort of persons at the office.
An animal may be excluded from the office if it:
1. Causes any person to experience allergic reactions, fear, or any other physical or psychological discomfort;
2. distracts any employee from their work; or
3. reduces any employee’s productivity or quality of work
In addition, the following animals may not be brought to the workplace:
1. Any animal in which [State or City] has banned residents from owning as a pet
2. [X, Y, Z Animals- Alternatively you can expressly state this policy only covers certain animals such as cats, dogs, and fish];
3. sick animals or animals with fleas or any disease that is communicable to other animals in the office or to humans;
4. animals that have not been properly vaccinated, or that have internal or external parasites;
5. dogs that frequently bark, whine, or create other disturbances,
6. any animal that has behaved aggressively towards humans or other animals;
7. or animals that foul the inside or outside of the building.
8. Animals that have not been spayed or neutered will not be permitted to come to the office in season.
In addition, pet owners who have been approved to bring their pets on site agree to the following:
1. All animals must be in the continuous full control of their owners. They should be in the physical presence of the owner, in the owner’s office, or in the space around the owner’s desk. Pet owners are expected to provide their own leashes, crates, or gates to keep the pet securely in the employee’s work area.
2. Owners are expected to comply with all state and local leash laws.
3. Owners are expected to clean up, completely and immediately, after their animals. Owners are expected to provide their own pet items such as waste bags, toys, and water bowls.
4. Owners are expected to provide adequate bathroom breaks and schedule their own break time to coordinate with their pet’s needed bathroom and exercise breaks.
5. Owners are expected to provide annual proof of vaccination and health checks to the HR department\
6. Owners are expected to keep their pets out of designated pet-free places, including [e.g. conference rooms].
7. Owners are expected to use alternate pet care away from work on days when the employee would be unable to fully manage the pet at work (e.g., an all-day meeting, off-site appointments) or if the pet is ill. Having another employee watch your pet in your absence is not allowed.
An employee who brings an animal to the office is completely and solely liable for any injuries or any damage to personal property caused by the animal. Any repair or cleaning/maintenance costs incurred by an animal will be charged in full to the owner.
[Company] may, at its discretion, require animal owner to maintain a liability insurance policy covering damage or injuries caused by the animal while at the office. The company may specify minimum coverage amounts under such a policy and may require the owner to pay for such coverage.
[Company] shall not be liable for loss of, or injury to, any animal brought to the office.
Any individual with a grievance regarding an animal at the office should bring the matter to the attention of the owner’s immediate supervisor and/or the HR department.
Employee Signature __________________________________ Date: ___________________
Disclaimer: The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It is provided by Silver Tiger Consulting for sample purposes only. Please consult your own attorney about your company's specific situation before rolling out or disseminating policies and guidelines to staff. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual and/or company situation.