Who let the dogs in? The legal “ what ifs ” of pets in the workplace
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2020 has been a godsend for many dogs and their owners. Finding daycare centers or dog walkers was no longer a priority and the intimacy of animals flourished.
As the number of adoptions is high in the state and people are returning to work, vets and animal care specialists say the problem of finding affordable child care – as well as coping with the anxiety of separation – is now a real concern.
For businesses where every day is “ take your dog to work ” day, employment lawyers imagine a number of “ what if ” situations that could arise in the workplace, and they say that employers should consider creating pet policies before problems arise.
“People have become so used to being at home with their pets, and I think you’re going to see more employees requesting this workplace benefit on a case-by-case basis,” says Lindsay Hamrick, director of Shelter Outreach & Commitment to human society.
Employment lawyer Terri Pastori acknowledges the hardships many people have faced over the past year and agrees with Hamrick that there could be an increase in the number of people asking to bring their dogs to the job. An avowed dog lover, Pastori says the issue of pet policies in the workplace is a hot topic.
As it is, many companies that allow pets already don’t have formal policies outlining expectations, she says.
“Remote work has had an impact on the situation. People and their pets are used to being together during the day and there has been a spike in ownership. Life has changed so much because of COVID and we have broadened our view of workplaces. Employee morale and pets are important. “
Dogs boost employee morale
The correlation between employee morale and bringing pets to work was the subject of a 2012 study by a group of researchers who published their findings in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management under the long title , “Preliminary investigation into the presence of employee dogs on stress and organization perceptions.” ”
The aim of the research was to determine whether bringing a dog to work affected stress levels and changed organizational perceptions.
Comparing three groups – NO DOGS, NO PETS and DOGS – the study found that stress decreased for the DOG group with their dogs present and increased for the DOGLESS and NO PET groups.
“The NO DOG group had [significantly] higher stress than the DOG group at the end of the day. A significant difference was found in stress patterns for the DOG group on the days their dogs were present and absent. On days when the dog was away, owners’ stress increased throughout the day, mirroring the pattern of the NO DOG group, ”the study said.
While some companies have learned about workplace policies for service animals and emotional support animals, many people are unaware of the legal distinctions between the two, says Ashley Taylor, who practices right with Pastori.
“Emotional support animals do not have the same access rights as service animals,” says Taylor. “The emotional support is just for housing. The requirements for service animals are strict … it’s not just “my dog calms me down”. ”
But Pastori imagines that emotional support animals might meet the criteria for reasonable accommodation in certain situations.
“Reasonable accommodation standards are flexible,” says Pastori. “There are rights for assistance dogs, and you wonder if emotional support pets could benefit from reasonable accommodation as well.”
The legal “ what ifs ” of pets in the workplace
There are two basic problems when advising employers on pet policies and they need to be addressed immediately, Taylor says.
“When writing a pet policy, the first step should be ‘what do you mean by pet’? Second step, “who will have an impact now or in the future?” ”
Some of the impacts associated with pets in the workplace are a matter of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. The ADA defines a disability as anything that interferes with a major activity of life.
An employee or customer with a dog allergy, for example, could create a problem, Taylor says, and employers can’t screen everyone who walks into an office.
“Any pet policy should make it clear that it can be changed or discontinued at the discretion of the employer. An allergy problem, or even a phobia in some cases, could be a handicap depending on how it manifests, ”she says. “I think you might find that some small businesses have had no problem having pets in the office. But it’s important to make sure everything is clearly presented to employees. What if someone new arrives with a new dog that doesn’t fit? ”
This situation could lead to retaliation in the workplace, says Pastori, describing a situation in which someone is hired who has a severe allergy to dogs, leading the company to issue a general rule against dogs in the office.
“People could get very angry with the employee who they believe has ruined the favorable conditions allowing pets to work,” she said. “It’s a concern and what we think is best practice is to anticipate these things as employers structure their policies.”
Who let the dogs in?
At Duckfeet USA, on Islington Street in Portsmouth, 13 employees work in a relaxed and open environment, complete with sofas – and some, their dogs.
Every day, the Danish shoe company, which packages and distributes more than 40,000 pairs of shoes a year, has up to four dogs sleeping or roaming around the office. On a Monday in mid-April, it was just Rue.
“We don’t have an official policy and it has worked well. People bring their dogs if they want, ”says Duckfeet USA co-owner Justin Brady. “Some dogs, of course, are not perfect for the office because of barking and so on, but Rue is the perfect dog.
Rucifer “Rue” Huxtable is a seven-year-old pug named after the character Rudy from the show Cosby.
“I would have a hundred pugs if I could,” says Briggs, Brady’s wife, the company’s customer support specialist.
“He’s a ‘Grumble,’ says Meghan Lien.
“That’s right, a pack of pugs. I think it’s just three or more to make a growl, ”Brady said, joking with Lien.
On Bow Street, CEO of Seascape Capital Management, the yellow lab of six-and-a-half-year-old Monica McCarthy, Chloe, stretches the red carpet next to a large window overlooking the tugs of the Piscataqua River.
“I felt guilty for putting her in daycare,” McCarthy says. “I discussed this with a friend who had a publicly traded company that allowed dogs and he said, ‘Well, it’s your business, so you can bring it in if you want to.’ And it just developed from there.
Seascape doesn’t have an official pet policy, but McCarthy says there are a few ground rules and she always checks with clients who come to the office to make sure they’re not allergic. .
“They have to love people, be home trained and can’t bark all day. Other than that we have had a great response from customers and our team love being able to bring their dogs. “
McCarthy, who is a member of the NH SPCA board of directors, said shelters empty when people return home to work.
“They’re great for reducing stress, they get us out of our chairs, away from screens to get some fresh air, and they keep us grounded, it’s really nice.”
Richard Fradette, a lawyer in Manchester, has been bringing his 13-year-old Lincoln chocolate lab to work for years without any formal pet policies.
Named after the town in northern New Hampshire, Lincoln spends most of his time these days lying in the sun on his window seat, but in his youth, Fradette says, he could do anything.
“We’re a small, very family-owned business,” says Fradette. “There is no official policy, but we make sure the animal does not disturb office staff or clients.”
Fradette enjoys having Lincoln by his side during the day and says he’s never had a customer item.
“I always ask clients if they mind that my dog is there before I bring them to the office. To date, I have never had a client object. It’s usually the opposite: Customers are eager to see him and have sent him treats.
Make a return to work a smooth transition
Animal care specialist at Cilley veterinary clinic in Concord, Paul Bourget, says the return to work has already created a surge in the number of people seeking day care for their dogs as well as veterinary care.
“Everyone in veterinary and animal care is being criticized right now. It’s because a lot of people have had pandemic puppies, ”says Bourget. “If you can work from home, that’s good. Unfortunately, there are not many dog day care centers in the Concord area. In rural New Hampshire, it’s hard to find a place. And some dogs are not equipped to be in the office.
For Taylor and Pastori, who plan to make the return-to-work transition easier for both employees and employers, coming up with “ what if ” scenarios about liability and a host of other animal-related issues is critical. company in the workplace. .
“It helps to work on scenarios that might pose challenges,” says Pastori. “As an employer, you’ll want to have a process for people to apply when they bring a pet to work – vaccination history, temperament history, etc. – so that the company can approve or refuse the request. “
For companies that choose not to allow pets for practical reasons, Taylor suggests that some employers might offer workplace benefits, such as doggy day care, access to pet insurance, reduced prices, allowances for animal walkers or even gym memberships.
“For many people, your pet is part of the family,” Pastori adds. “These are just a few ideas that might not be quite as nice, but they recognize that pets are part of people’s families.”
These articles are shared by The Granite State News Collaborative partners. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.