Labour & Employment Newsletter
Pets in the Workplace: What’s an Employer to do?
One workplace trend that continues to grow in popularity is the presence of employees’ pets in the workplace. If you haven’t seen it yet, be assured that employees in many types of offices, stores and other workplaces are bringing pets to work. In fact, Pet Sitters International has declared the first Friday after June 19 each year (which will be June 21 this year) to be “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” and the event is gaining traction. This newsletter looks at the trend of bringing pets to work, identifies some of the legal issues and provides pointers for developing a policy on pets in the workplace.
According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association (the “APPA”) nearly a quarter of employees in the United States want pets in the workplace, while 11% of workplaces allow pets already. Don’t think, though, that the APPA is just on a mission to promote pet ownership. Business.com reported in 2017 that allowing employees to bring pets to work can improve morale, help employees bond and even attract younger talent. In particular, “Millennial” employees value the ability to bring a pet to work. Scientificamerican.com weighed in, too, and also in a 2017 article noted that when it comes to dogs in the workplace, “the evidence is suggestive of some positivity”.
There are some jobs where employees could absolutely not bring a pet to work. For example, in Nova Scotia, live animals may not be in any room where food is prepared, stored, or served. Also, healthcare facilities might not allow pets. Our pointers clearly would not apply in those workplaces.
Also, this newsletter does not address the presence of guide/therapy dogs. An employer might have to allow a guide/therapy dog as part of an accommodation.
This newsletter addresses employees who want to bring their pets to work.
Pets can be great company. They can also be dangerous, destructive, and unpredictable. Many organizations prefer to simply ban pets altogether. For example, thanks to an Ottawa-area Shih Tzu, you may no longer bring your dog into a Home Depot store in Canada. In 2011, a Shih Tzu seriously injured an employee’s face. The employee required several surgeries and was awarded a settlement in the tens of thousands of dollars. The case was a bit different as a customer, not another employee, brought the dog into the store. However, it shows the type of incident that can occur when pets are in the workplace.
The presence of pets in the workplace also raises other concerns. There is the potential for personal injury and a business owner could be liable if a pet injures an employee, customer or someone else. There is also a potential for property damage as pets might damage furniture, machinery, and anything else they get their paws on. The presence of pets in the workplace might also bring about situations with other employees if someone in the workplace is allergic to or afraid of certain animals.
Before allowing pets in the workplace, an Employer should do the following:
- Check with the landlord, any licensing officers and insurance providers to see if pets are allowed. If any of those entities prohibit pets in the workplace, the Employer should implement a one-sentence rule: Pets are not allowed in the workplace at any time.
- If none of those entities prohibit pets in the workplace, an Employer can still prohibit pets in the workplace. Be aware, though, that an employee might still request, at some point, to bring a pet to work. If you believe that such a request is possible and your workplace could be appropriate for a pet, it is prudent to develop a policy addressing the following points:
- Bringing a pet to work is a privilege and not a right. That privilege can be revoked at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all.
- Identify what kinds of pets you would allow. Dogs seem to the most common pet taken to work. Would you allow a cat? What about a ferret? You can limit the type of pet. Most policies that we have seen address dogs in the workplace.
- All pets must have up-to-date licenses and vaccines. The Employer should reserve the right to see the pet’s license and any medical records immediately upon request. Do not worry that this obligation will cost your employee money. Your employee would have to have all licenses and vaccines up-to-date in order to bring a dog to a doggy daycare or even many dog parks.
- All pets must be clean and have no fleas or parasites.
- Pet owners must carry insurance that will cover any injuries or damage the pet causes and provide a copy of that insurance policy to you upon request.
- Pets must be well-behaved.
- Pets must be kept on a leash or be otherwise appropriately restrained.
- The owner must bring the pet outside at regular intervals and clean up after the pet immediately.
- Employees might be required to remove the pet from the workplace if the pet becomes a nuisance or danger. Do not allow employees to keep a pet in a vehicle while the employee is at work.
- Employees should, if possible, advise the Employer in advance that the pet will be in the workplace.
- If an employee will be travelling for work with a pet, ensure that the employee pays any costs such as extra hotel charges, etc.
- State that the policy can change or even be revoked with no notice. An incident with a pet or a new hire who is allergic to pets could force you to change or even revoke the policy.
We hope that this newsletter has alerted you to both the growing trend of pets in the workplace and to steps that an Employer can take to limit the associated liability. There are undoubtedly any number of bad puns we could make about the need to get a policy in place before you have an issue (that one about closing the barn door comes to mind) but we think the point is clear. It is quite possibly only a matter of time before an employee brings a pet to your workplace. This newsletter should help you be prepared for it.
This newsletter is produced by Wickwire Holm to keep our clients and friends informed of developments in the law and emerging issues. It is intended for general information purposes only. In preparing and circulating this newsletter, Wickwire Holm is not providing legal or other professional advice. Readers are encouraged to consult their professional advisers before taking any action on the basis of information contained in this newsletter. If you have any questions about any issues raised within this newsletter or a related issue, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 902.429.4111.