Business going to the dogs?

Rich Meneghello, The Daily Record Newswire

It is estimated that 1.4 million owners bring 2.3 million dogs to work each day, and that doesn’t even count one-person shops and people who work at home. Many company leaders may be considering whether to let their office go to the dogs. Following is a look at the pros and cons of a pet-friendly workplace, along with some guidance.

First, note that I’m not addressing service animals, such as Seeing Eye dogs. A whole special set of regulations and responsibilities exists to accommodate workers and members of the public who require assistance because of disabilities; the following rules and tips do not apply to them.

Second, the focus for this column is on dog-friendly workplaces, so leave the ferrets and the cats at home. While some companies may allow any type of pet in their workplaces, most restrict their policies to dogs only (with perhaps fish also being allowed).

Companies that offer dog-friendly workplaces cite numerous advantages. Some cannot be easily quantified – improved quality of life, better office morale, increased camaraderie, decreased stress and greater happiness are cited as positives.

But beyond these warm and fuzzy reasons, there are some distinct advantages that may increase a company’s bottom line. Employees with dogs are likely to work longer hours and miss fewer days because they don’t have to leave promptly to tend to their dogs. And employers often note that employees are more productive and efficient when their dogs are alongside. Also consider that employees appreciate saving pet-sitting money.

So, a dog-friendly workplace can separate a company from its competitors in the battle to attract new talent. There is no doubt that, for some employees, it’s a benefit no different than health care coverage or three weeks of vacation.

Recognize, however, that not all employees love dogs, and perhaps a pet-friendly workplace will be a disincentive to some current or prospective workers. For all of the benefits listed above, some workers — and customers — may view the atmosphere as too unprofessional. Further, there may be some industries where state or local regulations prevent dogs from being present, such as some restaurants, food stores, hair salons, medical offices, etc.

If a decision is made to create a dog-friendly workplace, there are steps that should be taken and issues to consider. First, check to make sure that the building allows dogs, and also make sure that have proper insurance is in place to cover any injuries or damage that may occur.

Next, consider what kind of rules should be in place, and put them in writing. Will all workers be required to prove that their dogs have been recently vaccinated and are free of fleas, etc.? Should there be a prerequisite that all dogs go through a pet training class? Will there be a trial run, such as dogs allowed on Fridays only for a month, before a final decision is made?

Are there areas of the office where dogs will not be allowed (kitchens, work rooms, bathrooms, etc.)? Will all dogs be allowed, or only those under a certain weight? If an employee needs to go out of the office, where will the dog be allowed in his or her absence?

Finally, at a bare minimum, address the following issues.

If an employee has or develops an allergy to dogs, or perhaps even a psychological phobia to animals, disability law requires that an accommodation be made. Consider creating a “dog free” area in the workplace, or installing high-grade filtration systems to reduce dander and hair.

Make sure the policy addresses aggressive behavior against other employees and dogs, and enforce the policy by barring offending animals for good or until they are properly trained. And lay down rules for waste cleanup that clearly states whose responsibility it is to wield the pooper-scooper.
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Rich Meneghello, managing partner of the Portland office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, is dedicated to representing the interests of management. Contact him at 503-205-8044 or rmeneghello@laborlawyers.com, or follow him on Twitter – @pdxlaborlawyer.

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