Mastering Remote Work: Does Returning to the Office Mean Bringing Pets to Work?

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With so much of the workforce going remote this past year, there has been a huge shift in the way many people view pet ownership. In fact, the national pet adoption rate jumped more than 30% at the beginning of the pandemic, and animal rescue organizations reported an overall increase in adoptions of 30 – 50% in 2020. Not only has the spread of remote work helped match pets to homes, but we know that animals have been shown to reduce stress and provide much needed comfort and social support to many workers during the pandemic.

The shift to work-from-home has also opened our doors to our colleagues’ pets, whether meeting them on Zoom or hearing them interrupt conference calls. This has made it seem more normal to have your pet – or your colleagues’ pets – around during the work day.

With the potential for going back to the office seemingly closer, some offices are considering whether to go pet-friendly. Here are a few steps to consider before your office makes this decision:

  • Consider Your Workforce and your Workplace

    • Not every office will be the right place for pets, but it could be a perk your employees really appreciate (and could make it easier for employees to come back into the office). Consider if the office space allows for pets to stay in their own areas, out of the way of those who do not feel comfortable with animals around. Think about how easy your employees can take pets outside, or remove them from distracting other employees. Finally, take account of employee pet allergies, and determine what limitations would need to be in place.

  • Require Authorization

    • There should be a process for employees to receive authorization to bring their pet to work, and provide necessary information regarding their pet’s health and vaccine history. Any employee bringing a pet to work must agree to observe certain requirements or risk losing their pet-privileges.

  • Establish Guidelines

    • Employers need to determine what types of pets can come to work (e.g., dogs, cats, fish, etc.), and designate certain areas pet-friendly, and certain areas off-limits for animals. Strict cleaning guidelines should be in place to ensure the workplace remains clean and safe for all.

There are also legal concerns when addressing pets at work. Beyond a full pet-friendly policy, employers must remember that pets may need to be allowed as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires service animals be allowed in all areas of public access, and employers are required to engage in the interactive process with employees if a pet may be an appropriate accommodation for a disability. The ADA generally requires service animals be allowed in an employer setting, if doing so will not create an undue hardship for the business. This is not the case for emotional support animals, however, which are not necessarily trained for a specific service, but simply to provide comfort and companionship. Either way, when faced with the question, employers should consider whether a pet would be an appropriate accommodation that enables an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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