Should You Allow Pets at Work?

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on April 3, 2013
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At Wixon Jewelers in Minneapolis, employees and customers alike are allowed to bring their dogs into the store. Dogs boost employee spirit and morale, says Jayme Pretzloff, the company’s online marketing director. Customers love them, too. “When you walk into a jewelry store, you don’t expect to see a dog, which catches them by surprise and really makes their day,” he says.

Of course, having pets on the premises isn’t right for every workplace. Restaurants and other businesses that handle food are typically required by law to keep their environments free of animals, guide dogs excepted.

But it may make sense for other types of small businesses to consider allowing canines on the premises, particularly if you’re located in a dog-friendly area with plenty of foot and paw traffic. Pooch owners who hear about your pet-friendly policy are likely to not only patronize your business, but also spread the word to their animal-loving friends. That could add up to a lot of sales.

Your employees may benefit from a pet-friendly workplace as well. A 2012 study by Virginia Commonwealth University shows that employees who bring their dogs to work experience less stress, express a higher degree of job satisfaction, and have a more favorable perception of their employer.

Put a Pet Policy in Place

If the idea appeals to you, put together a written policy about having pets in the workplace. At Healthwise, a nonprofit health-information provider in Boise, Idaho, employees must get permission from a manager before bringing a dog to work. If a co-worker has allergies or the pet’s presence interferes with anyone’s ability to work, its owner must leave the animal at home. A “three strikes” rule, which applies to aggressive behaviors such as growling or lunging, is strictly enforced.

Depending on your workplace, you may want your pet policy to include restricting animals to certain areas of the workplace and requiring that all pets are licensed and vaccinated.

You’ll also want to take into account some other liability considerations, such as:

  • Insurance coverage — Is your business covered for any injuries caused by a pet? Although many state laws make the pet owner responsible, you may also be liable if a customer’s dog bites someone on your premises.
  • Employee responsibility — Make it clear that pet-owning employees are responsible if their animal bites or scratches a co-worker or customer.
  • Property damage — Again, you’ll need the right insurance coverage to protect against damage done to office equipment, carpets, furniture, etc.
  • Lease agreements — Check with your landlord before allowing pets into the building. Many state laws hold the dog-owner responsible for any damage or injury the dog causes, though in a 1985 court case, a New Jersey store owner was sued when a dog, left tied up outside by a shopper, bit a girl on her way inside. So while landlords are generally protected by a lease or rental agreement, and the store’s renter covered by renter’s insurance, the protection is not absolute.

Consider the Animals’ Needs, Too

It’s also important to be sensitive to the animals’ needs. Not every pet enjoys hanging out in a noisy or chaotic work environment. Many animals are not eager to please strangers, either, including your customers. More exotic pets, such as lizards or cockatoos, may require special lighting and temperature-controlled environments. These sorts of animals are probably better off at home.

When implementing a pet-friendly policy, take it slow. Start by allowing animals on the premises only on a specific day of the week or during set hours. Other possible restrictions might include the size of pets welcome and the total number permitted in the workplace at the same time.

Once everything’s in place, consider the marketing opportunities. How about inviting pet lovers to participate in a special promotional event? Or joining forces with another business to offer some kind of pet-friendly discounts? Appeal to animal lovers and you may attract new talent and increase sales.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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