Can I bring Fluffy to work today?

Posted on March 12, 2012 by Erin Daruszka in Management Practices

I once met a client and upon shaking his hand his dog came lunging at us and knocked my watch off.  I have spent years volunteering at an animal shelter, so I knew the dog’s lunge was not aggressive. Nonetheless, the client was embarrassed. He explained that in their household they do “group hugs” and the dog participates; Cosmo took my outreached hand as a welcome invitation to join in the fun. If this had been my colleague instead of me, it would have had a different outcome. You see, my colleague, was afraid of dogs.

Recently, a dog-friendly client of ours had an employee who occasionally brought his dog to work. However, the dog displayed aggressive behavior to those walking past the employee’s cubicle and would often lunge at them and bark loudly. When asked to control his dog, the employee indicated that his dog was a service animal. This client happens to work in a city where it’s relatively easy to register any pet as a service animal, which makes it relatively difficult from an HR perspective to just send the dog home, as elements of the Americans with Disabilities Act come into play. As a result, we needed to assess the feasibility of this being a reasonable accommodation.

Service animals aside, we often have clients who want to create fun environments where their employees can bring their animals to work. A survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers, stated 17 percent of Americans work at pet-friendly companies.  However, with bringing our beloved pets, comes inherent risk.  A few things to consider when deciding to adopt a pet-friendly environment:

  • Allergies – what will you do if employees or guests have allergies? Options include: Pet-free zones, being sure the pet is not in contact with the allergic employee or guest.
  • Fears – what will you do for those employees or guests who are afraid of dogs? Options include: having pets on leash, in a closed office and/or accompanied at all times.
  • Behavior – not all animals are welcoming and even some that are, the friendliness can be misinterpreted, take Cosmo’s group hug for example. Options include: controlling number of animals allowed in the office on any given day, proof of obedience training, proof of up-to-date vaccinations, zero tolerance rules.

A best practice is to have a contract with those employees wanting to bring animals to work. The contract outlines the company’s expectations for the employee and animal, that way an employee can determine whether it is appropriate to bring their beloved Fluffy into the office or if Fluffy misbehaves, there will not be any surprises on the consequences.