Barbara Weltman offers tips on how best to bring employees’ furry friends into the office fold. (Credit: Sheila Brown, Public Domain Pictures)

During Covid-19, many employees working from home got used to having their pets close by. After all, 70% of households have a pet. With employees returning to the workplace, some want to have their pets with them. And customers are out and about with their pets. Can you or should you permit pets in the workplace? It’s helpful to think things through and create a pet policy that works for your business.

Here are some things to think about as you craft your pet policy.

Consider How it Helps Employees

There are benefits to allowing employees to bring their pets to work:

  • Health benefits. Having a pet with an employee provides physical and mental health benefits. It can lower stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And it increases activity level, a positive health benefit — after all, dogs have to be walked.
  • Employee benefit. In today’s tight job market, offering employees the option of bringing their pets to work may be a differentiating factor for job applicants.

But, you do need to recognize that not all employees may be in favor of having animals in their workspace. You may want to get feedback from your staff about whether to allow pets in the workplace before setting policy.

Crafting a Pet Policy for Employees

Be sure to put details in your employee manual on bringing pets to the workplace. You probably want to require that any pet brought to work be healthy, up to date with immunizations and heartworm and flea treatment, and be clean. And you may want to limit the size and type of pet that’s permissible (do you want pigs and boas in your showroom or back office? Probably not). And you want it clear who is responsible for the animal — the employee who owns the dog, and not the employee’s assistant, should be required to watch it and walk it — as well as the rules are for banning a particular animal (e.g., continual barking, accidents, biting).

Employee Benefits for Their Pets

Whether or not you allow employees to bring their pets to work, you can offer pet-related employee benefits, which can be helpful in attracting and retaining employees in this tight job market. Some to consider:

  • Pet insurance. There are several companies, including Nationwide, offering pet insurance. Nationwide’s plans start at $35 per month. Employees pay for the coverage through payroll withholding that the company remits to the insurer.
  • Paying for doggie day care or a dog walker. This may be offered as a dollar amount per month. Or it can be paid when employees are required to travel out of town on business and need to board their dogs.
  • Allowing time off for pet adoption or bereavement. For some employees, the death of a pet can cause as much grief as occurs with the death of a spouse or other relative. Of the companies that currently offer time off, some are merely giving the time while others are making it paid leave. If you want to provide some leave for pet adoption or bereavement, be sure you’re clear about it in the employee manual.

Consider Your Customers

When you’re making a pet policy for employees, also think about whether to allow customers and clients to bring their animals onto your premises. You have to distinguish between ordinary pets and service animals. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act you cannot bar service animals for disabled individuals in any area open to customers. The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. In other words, a service animal is not a pet, and can’t be excluded unless and until the animal’s behavior becomes problematic (e.g., becomes vicious to a person or another pet).

You are free to decide whether to permit customers’ pets (non-service animals) on your premises. Here are some considerations in making your decision.

  • Local laws. Depending on the nature of your business, your local health department may bar pets in the workplace. Find your local rules here.
  • Space. You may not be able to accommodate pets on your premises.
  • Safety. It may be unsafe for pets to be present.
  • Consideration of other employees. Not everyone is pro-pet. Some people may have allergies or fears, and permitting pets in your company may be unfair to them.

Final Thought

There’s a proverb: “Who loves me will love my dog also.”

Employees and customers are sure to feel this way if you make it possible for pets to be on your premises in a safe and non-disruptive way.

Barbara Weltman is the founder of Big Ideas for Small Business, Inc., which publishes Idea of the Day. She is the author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2022 and other books that inform the small business community of tax, financial, and legal information they should know about.