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And Her Little Dog Too

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In the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy embarks on a grand adventure to the Land of Oz and then to the Emerald City, along with her faithful companion, her dog Toto.  Toto comforts Dorothy, gives her courage, and helps her to accomplish her goal.  He is an important member of her team.

These days it seems as if many people want a pet on their team as well, including in the workplace. Is that a good idea?

A number of articles have recently promoted the benefits of pets in the workplace.  In August 2016, National Public Radio  discussed pet-friendly policies with their piece, “Who Let the Dogs In? More Companies Welcome Pets at Work.”

In the article, employers describe pets-at-work policies as effective recruitment and retention tools, and point out that such policies cost organizations nothing and are often a favorite perk of employees.  Also in 2016, PetMD encouraged pets at work as a means to lower stress and absenteeism, while Forbes confirmed dog-friendly organizations attract millennials. 

In February 2017, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) ran an article titled “How to be a Pet Friendly Employer,” advocating not just the recruitment and retention benefits of pets in the workplace, but also the positive impact to morale and wellness.  The article listed a variety of pet-friendly benefits including take-your-dog-to-work days, pet insurance and animal-related volunteerism. 

SHRM cited a 2016 study by Banfield Pet Hospital which found that 83 percent of employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to companies with pet-friendly policies. 

So should you introduce “Fido Friday” in your workplace?  It depends. Be sure to consider the details and anticipate the concerns before you decide. Here are some things to think about:

First, is your work environment conducive to pets?  Pets might not be a viable option in a detention facility, a court, or a department that has frequent interaction with youth or vulnerable adults. This would mean not all departments could participate, and the result is inequity in the organization where some employees cannot have pets in the workplace, but when they visit finance, they see co-workers permitted to have furry friends in the office.

Workers who are out in the field might not have an ideal pet environment if their work requires the pet to be left in a vehicle for periods of time. At a more micro level, do workspaces have carpeting or hard floors?  Do cubicles have space that would allow for pet gates?  Is there an outside area that would allow for pet potty breaks?  

Second, what is proper doggie etiquette in your organization?  If you decide to allow pets in the workplace, you will want to have a policy outlining the details of your program.  Would you allow pets every day or just on Fridays?  Would you allow any pet or just dogs? Some employees are all for pets in the workplace until someone brings an animal other than a dog.  A greater number of individuals are allergic to cats, and some employees might not feel quite as supportive of the policy if a co-worker brings in an iguana, snake or monkey. Will your policy require pets to be housebroken, well-tempered, able to get along with other animals or trained? 

Are puppies permitted?  Everyone loves a puppy, but puppies need additional attention, might chew and damage furnishings and are prone to accidents.  Will employees be allowed to take the pets to meetings in other buildings or with outside agencies?  Are pets permitted to roam the office unsupervised, or only permitted on leash?  How long may a pet be left alone in an office or cubicle?  An employee may leave the pet to go to a lunchroom, restroom, retrieve something from the copier or attend a meeting. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals must be “harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices” and employers may want to apply similar restrictions to pets in the workplace.

Speaking of the ADA, you might recall that in the movie, Toto performs some of the functions of an emotional support dog for Dorothy. But what if the Scarecrow has severe allergy to dog dander or if the Cowardly Lion has a fear of dogs?  In reality, these situations might arise in the workplace if someone brings a dog, and each employee could request an accommodation under the ADA.  

In the case of Dorothy in the movie, it is important to remember that “comfort animals” and “service animals” are not the same thing.  According to the ADA, service animals are “working animals” trained to provide service directly related to the person’s disability. Emotional support animals or comfort animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. If an employer is unsure if a pet is a service animal, the supervisor may not ask about the employee’s disability, but may enquire if the pet is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or tasks the dog has been trained to perform. It is important to remember that allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. 

So, what’s the bottom line? Pets in the workplace might increase creativity, demonstrate flexibility, improve morale, create work-life balance, result in longer working hours, and improve work relationships.  Each of these benefits support recruitment and retention efforts as well as create a desirable culture.  But being fully informed of the pros and cons is necessary to set a program up for success.

Once you understand the pros and cons, the next step is to examine your organization’s culture, customers, departments and positions. Then, design your program. It might be easiest to start small, perhaps only permitting dogs, limit the days of the week, and set clear expectations so everyone can understand acceptable doggie etiquette.  Perhaps consider including telecommuting in the pet-friendly workplace program, by allowing employees to either bring their pets to work on Fridays or work from home on Fridays to be with their pets. Because, of course, flexibility and the ability to spend more time with their beloved pets makes everybody happy – and helps our organizations find our way over the rainbow.

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