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What legal issues should we weigh before allowing employees to bring their pets to work

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. We run a pretty laid-back office and are considering allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Anything we should be thinking about?

A. You will need a written policy to establish expectations before you allow pets into your workplace. Here are some considerations:

1. People come first. Despite your desire to allow pets—whether as a perk, a recruitment tool, or both—your employees still make up the core of your enterprise. If you have to choose between an employee and a pet, you should always choose the employee.

2. Comply with the ADA. If an employee is allergic to animals, pet owners must understand that they may have to leave their pets at home as a reasonable accommodation. Ignoring the pleas of an allergic employee will open you up to potential ADA liability.

3. Pets must be “office broken.” Animals with a history of biting should not be permitted. Moreover, any aggressive behavior such as growling, barking or chasing should result in the animal’s expulsion on the first complaint. Animals should also be housebroken, friendly to people and other animals and not protective of their owners or their owners’ spaces. Define when animals must be leashed or caged, and what is expected of employees when they have to leave the workplace during the workday.

4. Respect for property. Designate a specific area outside for animals to go to relieve themselves (preferably away from the entrances). Make pet owners responsible for cleaning up messes.

5. Up-to-date licenses and vaccinations. Before being permitted to bring animals to work, owners should verify that vaccinations are current, pets are free of parasites and pests and that the animal is licensed.

6. Assigning liability. Employees should verify, in writing, that they have sufficient homeowners’ or renters’ insurance to cover any damage or injuries their dogs cause. Have employees sign a paycheck deduction authorization in advance to ensure reimbursement. You should also consider your own insurance coverage in case your business gets sued.

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