Friday, June 25, 2021

Coronavirus Update 6-25-2021: Post-Covid pet-friendly workplaces?

"Does returning to the office mean bringing pets to work?" is a question that recently caught my eye as I was scrolling through my feed on LinkedIn (thanks David Miklas).

What the heck do we do with our pets as we return to the office? If Loula and Dante could talk, they'd tell you, "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease don't take my parents away; we've gotten so used to having them at home with us every single day." 

For this reason, and as an enticement to get people back to the office, some businesses are considering going pet-friendly and opening their space to employees' four-legged companions.

Are you thinking about opening up your business to employees' pets? 

Here are six considerations:
  1. People come first. Despite your desire to allow pets—whether as a perk, a recruitment and retention tool, an enticement to return employees to the office, or all of the above—your employees still make up the core of your enterprise. If you have to choose between an employee or a pet, you should always choose the employee.

  2. Mind the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee is allergic to animals, pet owners must understand that they may have to leave their animals at home as a reasonable accommodation. Other possible accommodations include creating sufficient separation between the allergic employee and the pet, segregating the pet to a specific part of the facility, or improving ventilation. Ignoring the pleas of an allergic employee, though, will open you up to potential ADA liability. On the converse, in all but the most extreme circumstances, you are likely required to allow a service dog (or miniature horse) as a reasonable accommodation, even if you prohibit all other pets.

  3. Animals must of "office broken." Animals with any bite history should not be permitted. Moreover, any aggressive behavior, such as growling, barking, chasing, or biting, should result in the animal's expulsion on the first complaint. Animals should also be housebroken, friendly towards people and other animals, and not protective of their owners or their owners' spaces. Finally, you should define when animals must be leashed or caged, and what is expected of employees when they have to leave the workplace during the workday.

  4. Respect for property. Designate a specific area outside for animals to go to the bathroom (preferably away from the entrances), and make sure pet owners understand that it is their responsibility to clean up messes outside and accidents inside.

  5. Licenses and vaccinations. Before being permitted to bring animals to work, owners should verify that vaccinations are up to date and that the animal licensed and free of parasites and insects.

  6. Liability. Employees should verify, in writing, that they have sufficient homeowners' or renters' insurance to cover any damage to person or property the animal causes. You should also consider indemnification in case your business gets sued, and a written paycheck deduction authorization for any damage caused.
If you are considering having a pet-friendly workplace, I recommend contacting employment counsel to walk you through the risks and to assist in drafting an appropriate policy.