2020 was a blessing for many dogs and their owners. Finding day care centers or dog walkers was no longer a priority and animal adoption flourished.
But with people back to work now, veterinarians and zookeepers say the problem of finding affordable day care – as well as separation anxiety – is now a real problem.
For companies that have a dog to work every day, labor lawyers envision a number of “what-if” situations that could arise in the workplace, and they say employers should consider guidelines for pets before problems arise.
“People are so used to being at home with their pets and I think you will see more employees asking about this workplace benefit on a case-by-case basis,” said Lindsay Hamrick, director of Shelter Outreach & Engagement for human society.
Labor law attorney Terri Pastori acknowledges the difficulties many have faced over the past year and agrees with Hamrick that the number of people wanting to bring their dogs to work may increase. Pastori is an avowed dog lover and says pet guidelines in the workplace are a hot topic.
As it stands, many pet-allowing companies already don’t have formal guidelines setting out expectations, she says.
“Working remotely influenced the situation. People and their pets are used to being together during the day and there has been an increase in ownership. Life has changed so much with COVID and we have broadened our vision of workplaces. Employee morale and pets are important. “
Dogs boost work ethic
The relationship between employee morale and bringing pets to work was the subject of a 2012 study by a research group that published its results in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management under the title “Preliminary Examination of Dog Presence by Employees on Stress and Organizational Perceptions” published .”
The purpose of the study was to determine whether bringing a dog to work causes stress and changes the perception of the organization.
When comparing three groups – NO DOG, NO PET, and DOG – the study found that stress decreased for the DOG group with their dogs and increased for the NO DOG and NO PET groups.
“The NO DOG group was (significantly) more stressed than the DOG group at the end of the day. A significant difference was found in the stress patterns for the DOG group on days when their dogs were present and absent. On dog-free days, owners became more stressed during the day, reflecting the pattern of the NO DOG group, ”the study says.
While some companies have asked about workplace guidelines for service animals and emotional support animals, many people are unaware of the legal differences between the two, says Ashley Taylor, who works as a lawyer at Pastori.
“Emotional support animals don’t have the same access rights as service animals,” says Taylor. “Emotional support is only there for living. The requirements for service animals are strict … it’s not just “my dog calms me down”. ”
Pastori envisions, however, that animals for emotional support in certain situations might meet the criteria for adequate adaptation.
“The standards for adequate accommodation are flexible,” says Pastori. “There are claims for service dogs, and you wonder if pets could also have adequate accommodations for emotional support.”
The legal “what if” of pets in the workplace
When advising employers on pet policies, there are two fundamental issues that should be addressed immediately, says Taylor. “When creating a pet policy, the first step should be: What do you mean by pet? Step two, “Who will it affect now or in the future?” ”
Some of the effects of keeping pets in the workplace include providing reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. The ADA defines a disability as anything that interferes with an important life activity.
An employee or customer who is allergic to dogs, for example, could be a problem, Taylor says, and employers can’t screen everyone who walks into an office.
“Any pet policy needs to make it clear that it can be changed or discontinued at the employer’s discretion. An allergy problem, or even a phobia in some cases, can be a disability, depending on how it manifests, ”she says. “I think you will find that some smaller businesses have had no problem having pets in the office. But it is important to make sure that everything is clear to the employees. What if someone new comes with a new dog that doesn’t fit? “
That situation could lead to retaliation in the workplace, Pastori says, describing a situation where a person who has a severe allergy to dogs is hired, leading the company to put in place a blanket rule against dogs in the office.
“People could get very angry with the employee who they believe ruined the pet friendly workplace,” she says. “This is a concern, and we believe it is best practice to anticipate these things in advance as employers’ structural policies.”
Who let the dogs in?
At Duckfeet USA in Portsmouth, 13 employees work in a relaxed, open workplace with sofas and sometimes their dogs.
Every day the Danish shoe company, which packs and distributes more than 40,000 pairs of shoes every year, has up to four dogs in the office that are sleeping or walking around. On a Monday in mid-April it was just Rue.
“We don’t have a formal policy and it worked well. People bring their dogs if they want, ”says co-owner Justin Brady. “Some dogs are of course not suitable for the office because of the barking etc., but Rue is the perfect dog.” (Rucifer “Rue” Huxtable is a seven year old pug named after the character Rudy from The Cosby Show.)
“I’d have a hundred boobs if I could,” said Brady’s wife Briggs, the company’s customer service specialist.
“It’s a ‘grumble,'” says Meghan Lien.
“Exactly, a pack of pugs. I think it’s only three or more to grumble, ”says Brady, joking with Lien.
Elsewhere in Portsmouth, Seascape Capital Management CEO Monica McCarthy leaves her six-year-old yellow lab technician Chloe on the red carpet next to a large window overlooking the Piscataqua River.
“I felt guilty about taking her to daycare,” says McCarthy. “I discussed this with a friend who had a public company that allowed dogs and he said, ‘It’s your company so you can bring it with you if you want.’ And it just developed from that. “
Seascape doesn’t have a formal pet policy, but McCarthy says there are some ground rules and that she always checks with customers who come to the office to make sure they are not allergic. “You have to like people, be house trained, and you can’t bark all day. Apart from that, we have had a great response from customers and our team loves being able to bring their dogs. “
McCarthy, who is on the board of directors of the NH SPCA, says the accommodations were emptied when people went home to work.
“They’re great for relieving stress, they get us out of our chairs, away from screens, and into the fresh air, and they keep us on the floor, which is really nice.”
Richard Fradette, a lawyer in Manchester, has been bringing his 13-year-old Lincoln chocolate lab to work for years without a formal pet policy.
“We are a small and very family-oriented company,” says Fradette. “There is no formal policy, but we make sure the pet does not disturb office staff or customers.”
Fradette enjoys having Lincoln by his side during the day and says he’s never had a client property.
“I always ask customers if they mind my dog being there before I take them to the office. To date, I’ve never had a client item. Usually the opposite is the case – customers look forward to seeing him and have sent him treats, ”he says.
Make getting back to work a smooth transition
Paul Bourget, animal care specialist at the Cilley Veterinary Clinic in Concord, says returning to work has already seen an increase in those seeking dog day care and veterinary care.
“Everyone in veterinary and animal care is being slammed. That’s because so many people have had pandemic puppies, ”says Bourget. “If you can work from home, that’s good. Unfortunately, there aren’t many dog day care centers in the Concord area. Finding a place at all is hard in rural New Hampshire. And some dogs are not equipped to be in the office. “
For Taylor and Pastori, who have considered making the transition back to office work smoother for employees and employers, developing “what-if” scenarios for liability and a host of other pet-related issues is most important Critical workplace.
“It’s helpful to work through scenarios that could pose challenges,” says Pastori. “As an employer, you want a process that people can apply for when they bring a pet to work – vaccination history, temperament history, etc. – so that the company can approve or reject the application.”
For companies that do not allow pets for practical reasons, Taylor suggests that some employers could offer workplace perks such as: B. Dog sitting, access to pet insurance, discounted rates, pet walker allowances, or even gym memberships.
“For many people, your pet is part of the family,” Pastori adds. “These are just a few ideas that may not be all that pretty, but they recognize that pets are part of people’s families.”
These articles are shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, see Collaborativesh.org.