Pets in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad, The Furry

Whether you’re creating an office pet policy for the first time, or you’re revisiting the one you currently have, here are some things to consider.

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing pets in the workplace was a hot topic. It’s an even hotter topic now.

As a result, many companies are either revisiting their pet policies or creating one for the very first time. Whether you’re new to pets in the office or looking to refresh your policy, here is what you need to know.

Understanding the demand for pets in the workplace

After months of remote work, pet owners of all kinds have gotten used to being home with Fluffy or Fido all day. When it comes to returning to the office, pet owners are experiencing “emotional turmoil,” Time reports. “Poll after poll has shown that [employees] are worried about how returning to the office will impact their furry companions.” This, the magazine says, is “after the COVID-19 crisis created a surge in pet adoptions and situations in which many people rarely left their pets’ side.”

As The Guardian reports, “according to the American Pet Products Association, 11.38m United States households took on a new pet during the pandemic.” Further, “75% of all pet owners [said] that spending time with a dog or cat helped to reduce their stress and increase their sense of wellbeing during COVID-19.”

A summer 2020 survey found that 1 in every 5 pet owners worry about their pets’ separation anxiety when they return to the office. Another from this spring found that 69% of pet owners are worried about what their returning to work will mean for their pets.

Those are some major numbers! This means that there are perhaps more people and workers with pets than ever before.

As an employer, you have to find a way to respond to (and, if possible, accommodate) the new needs of the workforce that got you through the pandemic. Even if you’re not much of a pet person and you don’t get the sentiment, being a pet parent can be a meaningful role for your employees.

Deciding on pets in the workplace: What to consider

The first thing to do is sort out the difference between pets in the workplace and service animals in the workplace.

Service animals are working animals that do a job or provide a service to a person with a disability. Service animals are exempt from the rules that govern pets as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, both in general and in the workplace.

“Pet” means different things to different people. Even if it’s pointing out the obvious, it’s a good idea to clearly state what animals are and aren’t allowed in the office.

While there is often confusion about emotional support animals, be clear that it’s only specially trained service animals that qualify for the special exemptions outlined in the ADA. Emotional support animals and therapy animals are not in the same class as service animals and have no special protections. Emotional support animals and therapy animals are legally considered pets in most circumstances.

Next, you’ll want to outline what is accepted as a pet in your workplace. Is it just dogs, or will you allow cats in a carrier or shut in an office? What about someone’s chinchilla, teacup pig, or snake? It might seem ridiculous, but “pet” means different things to different people. Even if it’s pointing out the obvious, it’s a good idea to clearly state what animals are and aren’t allowed in the office.

Tips for pet-friendly office policies

If you’ve opted to become a pet-friendly office, it’s time to consider the policies surrounding pets in the office.

There’s the obvious question of whether or not to allow them in the first place. This could mean that pets are allowed on certain days of the week only (Fridays are a great one), or that they’re only allowed on certain floors. Perhaps pets have to ride a certain elevator separate from the others. You’ll want to consider all of the logistics that surround getting a pet to the office. Also think about how to care for it all day (think: areas for pet feeding and pet relief).

When someone brings a pet in, are they required to supervise the pet themselves all day? Does the pet have to stay with them at all times? Or can they leave their pet in the care of a coworker? Are pets allowed in meetings, restrooms, and kitchen areas or not?

It’s also important to consider allergies. If you have employees who are severely allergic, how are you going to keep them separate from people’s pets? Is it even possible to do that?

To avoid unpleasant situations, it’s best to have a pet policy that’s as clear and detailed as possible.

Other policy details to consider

It’s not uncommon to:

  • Require that pets are clean and parasite-free
  • Ask for or require proof of training and vaccination

Sometimes certain breeds like pitbulls (who are often unfairly characterized as “mean”) are excluded. Many companies also require pet owners to sign a written statement that their pet will be undisruptive and that they’re responsible for any damage the pet might cause.

You’ll want to consider all of the logistics that surround getting a pet to the office. Also think about how to care for it all day (think: areas for pet feeding and pet relief).

There’s more to it than just pets in the office

Maybe there are logistical hurdles to allowing pets in your workplace. Maybe the allergies of other employees are just too much to safely overcome. Whatever the reason, there are other things you can do to support your pet parents outside of the office.

Companies are increasingly offering benefits like pet insurance or subsidies on doggy daycare or dog walkers. Even if your workforce is staying remote, offering pet-related benefits is a great way to reinvest the money you’re saving on rent into your employee’s wellbeing.

Just like with human benefits, you can either cover pet insurance or offer cheaper group prices. If you do go the pet-friendly office route, you could even consider hiring dog walkers. They could come to your office area and walk your employee’s dogs during the day.

We’re wading into the post-pandemic days of 2022. There’s all kinds of room for creative ways to appreciate your employees and the pets they love.

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