Question: We are considering becoming a dog-friendly office. Are there drawbacks we should consider when allowing employees to bring their dogs in to work? What are the best practices we should follow?
Answer: There are many legal and other issues to consider before implementing a dog-friendly office. For instance, employers in the food processing or service industries must abide by applicable health regulations which generally prohibit non-service animals in areas where food is prepared or served. Additionally, consider how you would accommodate dog waste, both intentional and unintentional. And even our loving pets can carry disease or have behavioral issues. Allowing dogs in the workplace may trigger personal injury claims where Fido gets nervous and bites an employee or property damage when Fifi chews through cubicle partitions or thinks a workplace computer is a fire hydrant.
Some workers may have severe allergic reactions to dogs which could trigger federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections if the allergy is a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities. Thus, employers would be required to make a reasonable accommodation to limit the allergic employee’s exposure to dogs or risk a violation of the ADA. Finally, after a risk and benefit analysis you must develop a workplace policy that takes into account these issues and more; for instance, all pets must have current vaccines and be licensed.
After taking everything into account, be sure to create policies for pets in the workplace that reflect the desired behavior you expect from employees (and their pets) so that your workplace remains safe and your employees happy and healthy.