Unless you have a service animal, you do not have a legal right to bring your pet to work. Still, many companies are drafting pet policies, especially when employees are wondering what they will do with “pandemic puppies,” or animals adopted during stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19.
If you want to know whether you can bring your pet to work, talk to your boss and consult your employer’s human resources (HR) department.
Pros of Workplace Pet Policies
Pets, specifically dogs, have been proven to reduce stress in the workplace. Having a workplace pet policy can help employees and clients alike feel more relaxed, comfortable, and sociable – and improve office morale. Employees who can bring their pets to work tend to work longer hours and have fewer absences, and employers who offer a pet perk are seen as more progressive and forward-thinking.
Additionally, a workplace pet policy is a huge financial perk because employees do not have to pay for doggie daycare or walking services.
Potential Problems with Workplace Pet Policies
As adorable as they are, pets may be distracting at the workplace. Employees will need to take several breaks to take their dogs outside for walks, and animals often create noises like barking or whining. If one employee has a pet, the other employees might also seek out the animal for entertainment instead of spending time at their desk. Animals can also cause property damage if they chew on office equipment or furniture or have an accident in the office. Ultimately, however, these are minor concerns compared to the possible legal repercussions.
Many people have animal allergies, so they may be unable to come into the office if it is full of dogs. Because allergies can be disabling, a dog-friendly office could be interpreted as discriminatory if there is no pet-free workplace or other accommodations for employees with allergies. Further, phobias can sometimes be disabling, as well, and an employee with a severe fear of dogs may not take kindly to a pet-friendly policy.
Employers can get around these issues by including pet-free zones within their pet-friendly workplaces.
Dog bites and animal-related injuries are other concerns. Not every dog is appropriate for the office, and if a dog bites or harms someone, the employer could face liability.
Service Animals Are Not Pets
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” If a blind employee has a guide dog, for example, the employer may not bar this dog from the office, especially if it helps the employee do their job.
Service animals must be specially trained to perform tasks directly related to a person’s disability.
Employers may ask if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and inquire about the task the animal is required to perform.
Someone with a service animal will have answers to these questions, but someone with a pet may not.
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals, comfort animals, or therapy animals are not the same as service animals, and employers do not have to allow them at work. Psychiatric service animals are trained to perform specific task(s) for people with disabilities, but emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias without special training.
In general, employers are required to allow service animals in the office but not emotional support animals – emotional support animals are not limited to people with disabilities.
Having a Problem with Your Employer?
If you have a disability and need your pet to perform tasks to help you with it, your employer must let you bring your pet to work – unless your pet’s presence would interrupt a sterile environment.
Similarly, pet-friendly offices may not discriminate against you for having a disabling allergy or phobia.
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