By Rose Miller
While in Pennsylvania on business, my husband and I stayed at a “pet friendly” hotel. Second day in, my husband commented that he feels his life has gone to the dogs because we found ourselves eating and sleeping with dogs.
Instead of waking to a crying baby, we awoke to a whining and barking dog needing to be let out. There is a pervasive trend in American society to place the same importance on pets as they do for a human family member. In fact, we hear people instantly complain when young children are in the room, yet there seems to be a greater tolerance for animals.
There is a growing demand for pet-friendly policies in today’s workplace. Companies are dealing with mandated leaves for family caregivers and “pet parents” desire the same type of leaves for their pet responsibilities. A study conducted by the American Pet Products Associations found that 17 percent of employers had pet-friendly policies.
They include: bringing pets to work; furternity (leave for the birth or adoption of a pet); and pet bereavement leave.
These policies are welcome by some and considered outrageous to others. There are pros and cons. Employers should be prepared to answer questions as to why or why not implement a pet policy.
First the positives. The Journal of Workplace Health Management shows that having pets in the office reduces stress levels when compared to offices without pets. Employees work longer hours and have fewer absences related to pet care.
A pet-friendly environment increases employee satisfaction and improves morale. Pets are a common point of interest and help promote an atmosphere of teamwork. Pet-friendly workplaces are common in companies where producers work in teams. Allowing pets can be an attractive feature for candidates. Indeed, a job site has a category called “Pet Friendly Jobs”.
Customers may have a positive reaction to pet friendly workplaces. It softens a company’s image and makes it appear more progressive and contemporary. Businesses, restaurants and hotels have found new opportunities fulfilling travelers’ need to bring their pets where they work, sleep, eat and play. Retirees and empty nesters seek luxury vacation spots where pet hotels offer grooming services. New businesses cater to pet lovers by offering services like pet hotel websites and specialty pet foods.
The negatives. Pets can certainly be a distraction for both the pet parent and their coworkers. Feeding, walks and bathroom breaks translate to frequent breaks. Coworkers may object to some having extra breaks. There are noise issues from barking or whining and some pets seek entertainment.
Not everyone is a pet lover. Moreover, some have good reason, like an allergic reaction, could threaten their wellbeing. A health condition could result in repealing a pet-friendly work policy.
Then there are employees with ingrained phobias around certain animals. Like smoking, employers may need to create a pet-free zone. The hospitality industry must balance the requests for pets allowed in restaurants and hotels to the visitors who oppose dining and staying with animals.
Pets may cause damage to rugs, furniture and equipment. Accidents happen even with best-behaved animals and the probability of occasional pet-related accidents is high. There is also the potential for legal and insurance issues where a dog could bite or trip an employee or customer while on company property. We had a client sued when a dog attacked one of the salespeople.
There is much to consider before adding pet-friendly policies. Before implementing any policy that involves pets, we recommend getting employees’ input. Everyone’s opinion must be heard. It may be attractive to new hires, but you don’t want to lose existing talent over a dog either. If the feedback is mixed, one way to gauge impact is to try allowing pets one day per week or month.
You’ll want a comprehensive pet policy that includes limits, consequences for misbehavior and monetary damages. The policy should define the types of pets, where and when the pet policy applies. Safety, legal and insurance risks need to be considered and pets may not be allowed in certain jobs where distractions could cause injuries.
If contemplating additional pet leave policies, consider how much leave you can afford, considering the total of all the mandated and elected leaves. Most importantly, the policy should clearly communicate that bringing a pet to work is a privilege, not a right. The employer should reserve the right to amend, add or remove the pet policy as they see fit.