As we look forward to returning to our normal routines, after we have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated, many people are wondering what permanent workplace changes will remain in place or will be introduced for workers; as well as the pets they either acquired or became more attached to during quarantine. I am certain my dog thinks I decided to stay home with him all day because he is so wonderful (which he is).
Several studies have shown positive benefits in allowing pets in the workplace, including boosting morale, atmosphere and productivity. Companies such as Google, Zynga and Amazon allow employees to bring their pets to work as they believe it reduces stress and promotes work-life balance.
For many employers, however, this is uncharted territory, and some employers have recently begun seeking guidance on policies regarding pets in the workplace.
While we try to navigate a successful return to work for everyone, including perhaps new furry coworkers, we have to keep in mind that bringing pets to the workplace is a privilege, not a right. While employers have the duty to accommodate employees with disabilities, including employees who may require the assistance of a certified service animal, such duty extends only to the point of undue hardship. When creating a workplace pet/service animal policy, employers must first consider health and safety requirements for all employees and the operational requirements of the business. Therapy dogs are not exempted in this regard.
The Guide Dog and Service Dog Act of British Columbia states:
A guide dog team, service dog team or dog-in-training team may, in the same manner as would an individual who is not a member of any of those teams, enter and use any place, accommodation, building or conveyance to which the public is invited or has access.
Such dogs and other animals that fit this description must be allowed access to all spaces in the workplace. Animals used for this purpose must have a valid Guide or Service Dog Certificate.
If an employee has a certified guide or service dog, this consideration must be taken into account in establishing a pet policy, even if the employer determines that the overall policy will prohibit pets that are not certified service animals.
Employers will need to balance the benefits of allowing pets in the workplace against the risks of doing so. Safety hazards resulting from having pets in the workplace may include: risk of bites; tripping or slipping hazards; allergies; or triggering symptoms of mental disabilities such as anxiety or PTSD. Permitting pets to attend the workplace is not appropriate for any workplace that is already safety-sensitive. Accordingly, assessing the nature of the workplace and consulting with employees is of paramount importance prior to implementing a pet policy.
Some key tips for a pet policy:
1. Require all employees to seek approval prior to bringing their pet to work. This may include a meeting with their supervisor and consultation with coworkers in their immediate and surrounding work areas. Consider having employees sign a pet agreement in advance as part of the pet policy.
2. All animals/pets entering the workplace must:
- have current vaccinations and ID tags;
- be confined to their owner's office or workspace;
- not enter spaces such as kitchens/lunch rooms, restrooms, meeting rooms, and classrooms; and
- not disrupt production.
3. In the event the pet causes a disturbance or disruption (such as loud barking or bathroom accidents), the owner should be required to take responsible and immediate action.
4. Owners must immediately clean up after their pet. In the event of significant damage, pet owners should agree to be financially responsible.
Finally, given that this sort of policy is for the benefit of employees as a group, we encourage employers to consult with their employees prior to implementation. There may be employees with allergies or fears that should be kept in mind. In order to ensure the pet policy boosts rather than detracts from employee morale, steps should be taken to ensure that individuals who are not comfortable around certain animals (even if not due to a protected ground under human rights legislation) are not exposed to the animals any more than they should be. For example, pets can be restricted to certain areas of the office only.
Employers might consider implementing a pet policy on a trial basis initially and evaluating the policy at regular intervals to ensure that any issues are being addressed and risks are being identified and mitigated.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.