The 20th annual observance of Take Your Dog to Work Day is Friday, June 22, 2018. The event was created by Pet Sitters International to celebrate companion dogs and promote their adoptions. Since creating the event, PSI has encouraged employers across the United States and around the globe to open their doors to employees’ dogs for one summer Friday each year.

A survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed there are more than 70 million pet dogs in the United States. Over 10,000 employers are estimated to participate in Take Your Dog to Work Day.

Who Brings Dogs to Work?

In addition to the employers who participate in Take Your Dog to Work Day, some employers regularly allow employees to bring pet dogs to work. In addition to pet dogs, service dogs may also be present in work environments to assist individuals with disabilities. Not limited to seeing-eye dogs for the blind, service animals may provide seizure alerts, retrieve items, or provide emotional support for employees diagnosed with PTSD.

dog with glassesAccording to federal law, service dogs constitute a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability in employment settings under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An emotional support animal, a pet that is not specially trained but provides emotional support to an individual with a disability, may also constitute a reasonable accommodation in the workplace under the ADA.

A visitation dog is another type of dog frequently seen in work settings. Visitation animals accompany their owners on visits to healthcare and educational settings to socialize with patients or students. Visitation animals are usually dogs, but they can also include other animals such as cats, birds, goats, donkeys, and horses.

Visitation animals may commonly be seen in healthcare settings, such as pediatric hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, palliative care centers, and nursing homes. In educational settings, visitation animals are often present in elementary schools, colleges, and libraries. In most cases, visitation animals are present in a setting for a few hours a day or week.

Therapy dogs can also be found in workplaces. A therapy dog assists a professional service provider (often in a healthcare setting) in the treatment or rehabilitation of a patient or client. These dogs can be found accompanying occupational therapists, psychotherapists, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, and other professionals in the performance of their job duties.

In an occupational therapy setting, for example, a therapy dog can help improve a patient’s motor skills through exercises such as grooming the dog, throwing a ball, or walking with assistance from the dog. In a psychotherapy setting, the dog may help the therapist develop rapport with a client or facilitate child therapy.

Pet-Friendly Workplaces

dog on leashIn other cases, employers are establishing pet-friendly workplaces that permit well-behaved dogs regardless of an employee’s disability status—and not just once a year on Take Your Dog to Work Day. For example, Google, Amazon, and Etsy have well-publicized policies permitting their employees to bring their dogs to work. In some cases, on-site accommodations are provided for care and welfare of the dogs, including dog parks. At the Seattle headquarters of Amazon, for example, there are dog-sized water fountains next to the normal fountains, containers of dog treats at the reception desks, and waste-bag dispensers outside along the paths between buildings.

If your company is considering allowing pets to visit on Take Your Dog to Work Day (or any other day), there are some legal implications to consider.

Why would an employer want to allow non-service animals at work?

Dog-friendly work environments are starting to become more common, and doing so can make your business stand out from the competition. Allowing pets in the workplace provides employers a low-cost opportunity to boost morale when many companies are cutting back.

For dog owners, this benefit may attract employees and increase retention by providing increased job satisfaction. Pets in the workplace can create a positive environment. Studies show that having dogs in the workplace lowers stress and fosters increased communication among employees and promoting a more unified workforce.

Finally, allowing pets in the workforce could encourage people to work longer hours, which will increase a company’s bottom line. If you are considering implementing a pet policy, this is often best done in small to medium-sized businesses with fewer employees involved.

Can – or Should – Your Workplace Allow Pets?

There are certain businesses, such as restaurants, medical facilities, or beauty salons, that cannot allow pets for sanitary reasons.

Even if dogs are not a health violation, employee health must be considered. Before allowing pets, survey your employees to find out about any medical conditions (e.g., COPD or asthma) or allergies that may make the event problematic, and to assess overall opinions about having dogs in the office. Employees with severe allergies or phobias may need to be physically separated from pets, or this may make it impractical to participate in TYDTWDay.

dog at deskThe next thing to find out is whether pets are allowed by the property owner in cases of leased office space. Check the lease to determine whether this is covered. When in doubt, ask for written permission. It is common for large commercial office leases to have “no pet” clauses, however smaller employer-owned buildings may be more amenable to permitting animals on premise.

In addition, you should consider the impact of having pets in the workplace on customers and other visitors. A vet clinic, independent bookstore, or small professional services firm might be an appropriate environment for an occasional canine visitor. A large law firm with Fortune 100 corporate clients might not provide the most dog-friendly environment.

How Do You Regulate Dogs in the Workplace?

While businesses that decide to allow pets more generally should create a comprehensive pet policy, even those that participate in TYDTWDay should consider laying down some ground rules.

dog and computer Employees who want to participate by bringing Max or Fifi to work should be made aware that they will need to be in complete control of the dog at all times, and have the ability to remove their pet from the office if necessary. Employees should provide copies of the dog’s vaccination records. Consider threshold requirements for bringing pets to work, such as completion of an obedience course, or proof that the animal is well behaved in a public setting. American Kennel Club titles such as Canine Good Citizen or advanced performance titles indicate the owner is committed to training a well-mannered pet.

Make sure your employees know that their dog must be well-behaved, not aggressive, housebroken, and not an excessive barker. If multiple employees want to bring dogs into the office, consider a staggered schedule to avoid turning your business into a dog park.

Dog Bites

It may not be pleasant to consider, but the potential to be liable for dog bites is an important issue for businesses to take into account. The owner of the dog would, in most cases, be liable if the dog were to bite someone, but there is also a possibility the employer would be jointly liable in a personal injury lawsuit. Some cases have found that allowing an employee to bring a dog to work does not make the employer a keeper of the dog. However, a plaintiff may be able to bring a claim for negligence against the employer for a dog bite occurring at the workplace.

One solution to the issue is to require employees to provide insurance covering any damage or injury by the dog. Many policies have a business-pursuit exception that may result in the insurance company refusing coverage, in which case a plaintiff would seek to recover against the employer. Therefore, it is important to demand that an employee have insurance coverage and to review the policy for any exceptions pertaining to the workplace. When in doubt, do not permit the employee to bring a pet to work unless or until you have obtained a business policy that would cover such animals in the workplace.

ADA Issues

dog and car There can also be legal implications with regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act. While courts have not come to any firm conclusions, there have been instances where employees have submitted ADA complaints both for businesses allowing and prohibiting pets.

For example, one case involved someone who claimed a fear of cats was a disability in a cat-friendly workplace. Another case covered a claim that an employee with anxiety would perform better with his dog at work. Courts in both cases were reluctant to side with the employees. However, the potential for ADA claims is something to bear in mind.

What should be included in the pet policy?

As part of your pet policy, an employer should:

  • Require the owner be in complete control of the animal at all times
  • Require employees to bring documentation showing the pet is up to date on its vaccinations,
  • Require owners to have comprehensive liability insurance covering all injuries,
  • Expect employees to sign an indemnification agreement to pay the cost of defending any lawsuit relating to a dog-bite, and
  • Require owners to have a way to transport the animal out of the office in the event it creates a problem.

Office Petiquette for Employees

  • Your dog should respond to basic commands, such as “sit” and “stay.”
  • Your dog should be socialized to people and other dogs.
  • Your personal workspace should comfortably and safely accommodate your dog.
  • Keep a supply of chew toys or quiet enrichment toys on hand to occupy your dog when needed—leave the squeaky toys at home.
  • No fleas at work! Keep your dog clean and well-groomed.
  • Walk your dog in a designated area several times a day, and clean up afterward.
  • Above all, consider your dog’s temperament. A shy dog who is uncomfortable around strangers, may find the office to be overwhelming. If your dog has a history of aggressive behavior, leave her at home and get help from a professional trainer or behaviorist.
  • Keep small items (paper clips, loose change, staples, rubber bands) off the floor.
  • Store ink cartridges, pens, markers and highlighters out of your dog’s reach.
  • Put cleaning solutions in a safe place; they can be toxic and potentially deadly.
  • Leave shredders unplugged to protect dangling ears and tails.
  • Contain your dog in a crate or pen if you can’t supervise him.

dog portraitOpening your office doors to pets is an easy way to keep employees happy and ideally more productive. If you decide to do so, create a comprehensive pet policy that fits your company and fosters a safe and happy environment for all employees.

A company should also consider contacting an attorney, before allowing any pets in the workplace, to address potential liability and create an appropriate policy. The dog-friendly lawyers of Clouse Brown PLLC can advise employees and employers with the risks—and rewards—of bringing a furry four-legged friend to work.

Alyson Brown

About Alyson Brown

Alyson Brown represents employers and executives in all facets of the employment relationship. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Brown has tried cases in state and federal courts throughout Texas and in other states. She represents clients in a broad range of industries, including health care, banking, energy, high-tech, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and nonprofit organizations. She can be reached at abrown@clousebrown.com.

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