Employers across the country are recognizing the benefits of pets, especially dogs, in the workplace and implementing policies that allow employees to bring their pet companions to work.
Studies and anecdotal evidence have shown that pets in the workplace reduce stress, increase trust and collaboration at work, stimulate creativity, reduce absenteeism, provide sensory stress relief, and boost productivity. A 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University, found that employees who were allowed to bring their dogs to work produced lower levels of cortisol, a hormone producing stress. A 2010 Central Michigan University experiment involving groups of employees, some with and some without dogs, found that groups who had dogs were 30% less likely to report each other when a group member was charged with a fake crime. This demonstrated that dogs in the workplace cause an increase in workplace cohesion and trust.
Zynga, Amazon, Ben & Jerry's, Clif bar, Google, and the U.S. Congress have already allowed dogs at work. Here in Philadelphia, URBN Corporate has a bring-your-dog-to-work policy. Elizabeth Martin, Associate Recruiter at URBN, brings her dog to work several days each week and says, "When I have Willow with me at the office I feel more relaxed and creative. In general, having dogs in the workplace changes the environment and makes it a more positive, playful place." A yearly "Take Your Dog to Work Day" campaign (www.takeyourdog.com/About/) sends animals from shelters into workplaces, with the goal of "encouraging employers to experience the joy of pets in the workplace."
Employers allowing pets in the workplace should consider that employees with allergies or phobias may require accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When implementing pet-friendly policies, employers should consider a "dog-free" area of the office or allowing employees to work remotely when pets are present.
Employers unwilling to allow pets in the workplace may still be obligated to allow service animals, including "seeing-eye" dogs, emotional support animals for mental health conditions, and animals who assist with hearing impairments and seizure disorders. For example, while the ADA requires that support animals be allowed to accompany disabled individuals in "areas of public access," it does not address the issue of service animals in the workplace. Therefore, employers may be obligated to accommodate service animals, including those for emotional disabilities, if the animal is interpreted to be a reasonable accommodation that will not cause undue hardship to the employer.
In addition, employers should look to state and local laws when determining legal obligations to allow service animals in the workplace. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware state human rights statutes mandate that employers allow service animals at work. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects the right to use a guide or support animal in employment, housing, and public accommodations; the lack of a statutory definition of "guide or support animal" means that emotional support animals may be included. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) provides for seeing eye and service dogs at work, defining "service dog" as any dog trained to assist a person with a disability including but not limited to minimal protection work, rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, and seizure alerts or assistance. Therefore, emotional disabilities may be covered.
Delaware's Equal Accommodation Law includes support animals and their trainers in its protections. Numerous cities and municipalities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware have also enacted human relations acts protecting the right to use service animals in public places.
Legal obligations aside, employers should consider the benefits of allowing employees to bring their pets to work, at least periodically if not every day. The result may be a happier and more productive workforce.