- Following a boom in pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers are anxious about how to care for their pets when they return to the office
- Employers have shown increasing willingness to allow employees to have pets in the workplace
- Crafting a pet policy to establish rules, address liability issues, and more
Summary by Dirk Langeveld
Pets have generally been a rare sight in the workplace, with the exception of the occasional office cat or brief visit from an employee’s dog. But after extended work from home arrangements and pet adoptions, workplace pet policies are becoming more relevant.
As with other employee policies, a pet policy simply outlines whether pets are allowed in the workplace and states any rules applying to this practice. The policy should also outline the responsibilities of any employees seeking to bring a pet into work.
One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic was a surge in pet adoptions, which rose 30 percent at the start of the pandemic and were up between 30 and 50 percent in 2020. This has raised concerns among new pet owners over how they’ll be able to care for their pet once they return to the office and how the pet will cope with their absence. Surveys have shown that employees are not only anxious about how they will care for their pet once they return to a physical workplace, but often open to looking for a job elsewhere if an employer won’t accommodate remote or hybrid work.
Employers willing to make this accommodation should first assess their workplace to see if it can accommodate pets. Check to see if there is sufficient space for pets to rest or walk around, and consider factors such as whether an employee will easily be able to walk a dog nearby. A pet policy can establish areas where pets are and are not allowed, as well as what types of animals will be permitted in the office.
Simple accommodations are often sufficient to allow employees to keep pets on the premises. For example, a gate across a door or cubicle entryway is typically enough to keep a dog from wandering around the office.
Solicit feedback from employees to gauge whether they support a workplace pet policy. This process can also alert you to concerns such as allergies and whether some workers may consider pets to be too distracting.
Outline the responsibilities employees will be expected to abide by when they take a pet into the office. Pet owners should be responsible for supervising their pet during the day, providing information on their pet’s health and vaccinations, taking steps to keep their workspace clean, and otherwise abiding by company rules. Employers should also make it clear that pet privileges can be revoked if the rules are not followed.
Allowing pets in the office raises certain liability issues, so you should make sure your insurance is adequate to cover any issues that might arise. These could include a pet injuring an employee or visitor, or causing property damage. An employee might also seek to hold an employer accountable if their pet is injured on the premises.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are still required to provide reasonable accommodations to support workers who use a service animal. This requirement does not extend to so-called emotional support animals, who provide comfort but aren’t trained to provide any specific services.