Should You Allow Pets in the Workplace?
You may not have a choice when it comes to pets in the workplace, but if you do, what is the best policy to follow?
We love our pets. In the workplace, though, pets can be a welcome addition, a source of frustration, or not allowed at all, depending on your company. Even in the best cases, there are multiple considerations, such as employees or customers with allergies, how much attention the pet needs, or how customers react (both positively and negatively) to pets in the workplace.
If you’re thinking about creating a pet-friendly workplace, just bringing your dog into the office on occasion, or allowing customers to bring pets in, there are ways to do it without a polarizing situation developing. But first you have to find out if it’s even legal.
What the Law Says
In some industries, the question of whether or not to allow pets isn’t your choice. For instance, FDA regulations don’t allow pets in restaurants. Some states, however, do let pets join their owners if the restaurant has a patio. Pets aren’t generally allowed in grocery stores, either, or any food service establishments, for that matter.
One notable exception to the law regards service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows service animals to accompany their owners wherever they go. There are some minor exceptions to this, but for the most part, either employees or customers may bring a service animal into work or into your business.
Aside from state or federal laws, your building lease may prohibit pets. If you’re thinking about whether or not to allow pets in your workplace, checking the laws and your lease may be the first place to begin.
Is It a Good Idea?
Laws aside, allowing pets in the workplace has to make sense for it to work. Even the best-behaved dog needs to go for a walk now and then. Having a cat in a clothing shop may result in a very furry seasonal collection of shirts. And if you’re visiting clients all day, you can’t leave your pet in the car.
If, on the other hand, you think it could work to bring pets to the office, you have some things to consider, such as how customers might feel about it.
An article in Entrepreneur magazine posits that dogs can benefit brick-and-mortar shops because they help provide “an increased sense of community and social connections—and even customer loyalty.” Even in non-retail companies, bringing pets into the office can help a business seem more approachable; a dog or cat is a great ice-breaker.
Not everyone loves dogs or cats, though. Some customers may be frightened of large dogs or may not like cats. One way to circumvent potential problems is to keep pets behind a gate or counter. That way, customers have a choice of whether or not they want to interact with a pet.
Having pets in the workplace can also benefit employees. There is evidence that pets can help employees increase performance, lower stress levels, and improve job satisfaction.
As a testament to that, some U.S. airports are pioneering volunteer programs that bring dogs into the terminals to lower the stress levels of flyers. And therapy dog programs have been in hospitals for years.
Is It a Bad Idea?
There are downsides, too. Coworkers and customers with allergies aren’t going to be thrilled with encountering a dog or cat in the office. Cats need a litter box, and some of them aren’t very well-behaved. Dogs need to go out, and they could be a big distraction if they bark a lot or have behavioral problems.
It’s best to consider potential problems in advance so you have a plan if issues come up. Consider a formal workplace pet policy. Choose one day each week as “pet day” and let employees bring their pets just for that day.
There’s also the fact that some pets may not enjoy going to work with their people. Noises, activities, and extensive interaction with humans may stress some pets.
Ultimately, the decision to bring pets to work comes down to the individuals in your business. In some cases, it just may not work, no matter how much everyone might want it to. And sometimes, reluctant employees may turn into the biggest cheerleaders for letting your business go to the dogs.
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