Furry Friends in the Workplace

With 9 percent of workplaces having pet-friendly policies, furry friends are becoming increasingly more common in the workplace. 

Time.com reports that dogs in the workplace provide greater opportunities for coworkers to meet and interact. For example, at Amazon, which has a website dedicated to the 7,000+ dogs that roam its halls, "dogs in the workplace is an unexpected mechanism for connection," said Lara Hirschfield, Amazon facilities manager. "I see 'Amazonians' meeting each other in our lobbies or elevators every day because of their dogs." 

While having pets in the workplace can contribute to lower stress, boost morale, collaboration, and creativity, there are a few things to bear in mind when crafting and rolling out an office pet-friendly policy: 

Establish Petiquettes
Companies such as WellPet and Harpoon Brewery, which ranked third on an annual list of America's most pet-friendly companies, have "petiquettes" for their four-legged employees to hang around the office. The dogs must be able to get along with other dogs and humans, owners have to take them out regularly for bathroom breaks, and employees must keep food out of their trash bins so the dogs don't eat it.

When thinking about opening your doors to pets, employers should be aware of the "one-bite rule,” and other policies related to safety that varies depending on the jurisdiction. According to Joshua S. Bauchner, partner at Ansell Grimm & Aaron law firm in NYC, "If a dog has bitten in the past, the owner is on notice that it can happen again and subject to strict liability. By inviting the dog into the workplace, the employer reasonably may assume that liability for failing to ask if the employee's dog has a record and by failing to take other necessary precautions." 

It’s important that an organization’s pet policy outlines when pets are allowed at the office as well as the compliance steps a pet-owner needs to take in order to bring their pet to the office. HR should also establish a process for reporting poor-pet behavior as well as check-ins to ensure there’s been no changes in the pet's behavior and ensure their up-to-date on their vaccinations

While pets have been found to lower blood pressure and reduce work-stress, 10 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from dog and cat allergies. Some of these allergies are so severe that they cause rashes, temporary breathlessness, panic attacks, and even severe respiratory disorders.

In addition to a physical reaction to the presence of pets around them, some coworkers or visitors may be genuinely scared of animals. For such individuals, the presence of a pet in their workplace is not a comforting addition.

Bear these folks in mind when inviting pets in the workplace and adjust plans and policies accordingly. Encourage pet owners to ask their managers and neighboring colleagues if they are okay with them bringing their pets to the office. HR can also ask everyone who is allergic or not on board with the new pet-friendly policy to confidentially disclose their preferences and mitigate any tensions at their onset. The result may be limiting the perk to once a week and on those days employees can opt to work remotely. 

Hairballs everywhere
When visiting a friend’s home who has a pet, it’s understood pet dander will likely be in the household, especially if said pets are allowed on the furniture. When opening up the office to our furry friends, enforce boundaries i.e. the kitchen and conference rooms are off-limits. Establish if dogs can sit on office chairs, which often go uncleaned, and if the dog owners have meetings with clients during the day, decide how to handle residual dander that may be on their clothing. 

Another thing to consider is office carpeting, as it is hard to clean and traps hair and fluids. Hard-surfaced floors are ideal for pet-friendly offices as they are easier to clean, disinfect, and deodorize.