Return to Work: Creating a Pet Policy for the Office

Because of sheltering-in-place, many people took the opportunity to adopt pets. But as companies begin to recall employees back into the office, some are wondering if they can bring their furry friends, too.

pup at the office

Before COVID-19 struck, major tech companies — from Airbnb, Google, and Amazon — adopted pet-friendly policies for their employees.

Because of sheltering-in-place, many people took the opportunity to adopt pets. But as companies begin to recall employees back into the office, some are wondering if they can bring their furry friends, too. Having a pet-friendly office requires proper planning and policy implementation.

Note: The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 remain low, but the CDC recommends limiting pet interactions with people outside the household. 

The health and safety of your employees and customers should always come first. If you do allow employees’ to bring pets to work (e.g., you work outdoors, have a socially-distanced office, etc.), here is some guidance on creating a policy that works for your company.

Should my business consider a pet-friendly policy?

From the perspective of the employee, having dogs in the workplace can provide social and emotional comfort for many and can help reduce stress. The presence of a pet can help break down barriers between teams and colleagues. In one study done by Better City for Pets, 88% of employees at pet-friendly workplaces said having pets at work improves their overall sense of well-being.

From the perspective of the business owners, pets in the workplace can help build a stronger employee experience, which can then serve as part of your recruitment and retention strategy, as 83% of employees with pet-friendly environments report greater company loyalty. Given that 67% of Americans now have pets, you can bet that this kind of perk will attract employees who love their pets and feel guilty leaving them at home.

Creating a policy for your company

While this kind of perk will be welcomed by many, it won’t be received without some challenges and perceived risks. For this reason, it’s important to create protocol and structure to protect your business and minimize any fears that may come from allowing animals in the workplace. This is where a well thought out policy comes into place. If you’re thinking about implementing a pet-friendly workplace policy, here are some guidelines to include …

Dog owner responsibilities

Be sure to clearly outline what the dog owner’s responsibilities are when their pet is at work. For example, clearly state that it’s the dog owners’ responsibility to make sure their pet does not make a mess, act aggressively toward employees or other pets, or damage property. State clear guidelines for employees around what is expected from them.

What to do should an issue arise

You should also outline the conditions for which a dog will be asked to leave (for example, having a 2-strike policy). If any of the dog owner’s responsibilities are not met, let the pet owners know that they will be responsible more mitigating the situation (for example, cleaning up or paying for damages). Having pets at work should not cause a distraction for your workers and if your staff are unable to get their work done, this should be addressed. Have a set of written rules that dictate what happens if there is damage, disruption, or aggressive behavior.

Designated spaces

Clearly outline which parts of your office are dog-friendly. For example, there may be some parts of the office that have delicate technology, or, you might want to provide a pet-free zone for staff who don’t want to be around animals. Clearly outline where pets can and cannot go.

Before starting this policy, check with your office lease to make sure you’re within the legal boundaries of your contract.

Here is a sample workplace pet policy created by Better Cities for pets.

Create open dialogue

While many people love pets, there are also many who have allergies, who are scared of dogs, or just don’t want animals around. That’s OK! Their opinions and concerns are just as important and should be taken into equal consideration. If you work with your team to accommodate those who need it, you will be more likely to defuse a bad situation before it happens and create a workplace that allows for both people and pets.

Before rolling out a policy like this, take time to gather feedback about what people want. Once your policy is rolled out, you can create an FAQ (similar to this) and consider holding open door sessions to foster dialogue around the policy.

When communicating to the team, make sure you’re highlighting the benefits of the policy, and helping build buzz around the message. Better Cities for Pets outlines how to best communicate pet policies with your company here.

Test the waters first

If you’re not ready to implement a full pet-friendly policy, you could consider participating in “Take Your Dog to Work Day!”. You could also try having pets every Friday for a month and see your team’s reaction. Be flexible and let folks work from home during dog days to accommodate for those who don’t want pets.

Critical to the success of this policy will be planning in advance and accommodating for those in need. Remember that all change will be met with some resistance, but with proper planning, clear communication, and reinforcement, your office will eventually learn to move with the tides.

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