Working with animals is a dream for some, and you don't have to be a zookeeper or vet to do so. Offices today are increasingly becoming pet-friendly. If you work in the right setting (i.e., not a construction site, restaurant or noncompliant workplace) and your lease and health regulations allow it, you might have the chance to share your workplace with furry friends.
Office pets might strike some controversy, but if there's a decent policy in place that accommodates both ends of the argument, you should be able to avoid issues.
First things first: Check with your landlord to make sure your lease allows pets in the building. If it's not explicitly spelled out, ask first.
Second, does your business have anything to do with food? If so, you should consult your local licensing bureau, which likely has some firm guidelines and regulations about animals in the workplace.
Ultimately, according to David Everett Strickler, marketing director for Pacific Office Interiors, you should include your employees in the policymaking process so you can all agree on what's best for the company. If you need some guidance, here are five crucial points to include in your pet policy.
1. Pets must be vaccinated.
Vaccinations protect pets from potentially life-threatening diseases and infections, some that might even be transmitted to humans. For the safety of both your pets and your workers, you should require proof of vaccination before allowing any animal in the office.
"A current (renew annually) veterinary record proving wellness, heartworm prevention, parasite control and vaccine compliance must be provided to HR prior to visitation," said Beth Stultz, vice president of Pet Sitters International. That way, there are no dangers, worries or liabilities.
2. Pets must be trained and well-behaved.
According to Stultz, office pets should have no history of aggression and be potty-trained, controllable, and socialized to people and other dogs.
"This should not be a three-strikes situation; even one incident of a pet behaving badly can have huge implications in a workplace," added Kim Stiens, founder and CEO of Ranavain. "If a dog bites anyone for any reason, they should be out. If a cat destroys someone's property, that's it. You don't need to be zero-tolerance … but you do have a primary responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and you can't allow pets to compromise that."
You should also consider making all pet owners get insurance that will cover any injuries caused by an animal. You may even want to have employees who bring their pets to work sign an indemnification agreement that spells out the requirement for an employee to pay the cost of defending any lawsuits that comes the company's way as a result of their animal.
3. The office must have designated pet-free zones.
There's a time and place for everything, including pets. If you're going to allow them in your office, you need to create a strict space for them, and a separate space for workers who aren't as fond of the idea. That way, no one feels forced into the situation.
"Pets, like humans in the workplace, should have defined areas," said Strickler. "If the owner is responsible for the pet … then the pet should be confined to that specific employee's workstation or office. If the pet will be in an open work area (think collaborative spaces, hotdesking, etc.), then you might want to consider a … touchdown spot."
It's worth noting that some people have serious allergies to animals. An allergy might even qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means employers must make reasonable accommodations. However, in the case of service dogs, it's unclear which person's rights take priority.
4. The office must be kept sanitary.
No one wants to work in a dirty office. Foul smells and cluttered floors are bad enough as it is, but can also be unsafe for workers. Germs, bugs and bathroom messes pose health threats to workers that you don't want to risk.
Delegate responsibilities to those who bring their pets to the office. This should involve bathroom duty, vacuuming, sanitizing desks and cleaning up accidents.
Ada Chen Rekhi, founder and COO of Notejoy, recommends designating an area for pets to do their business. For instance, if you have an office cat, litter boxes should be in one part of the office only, away from workspaces.
5. The company should have an anonymous complaint process.
Some employees might not be on the same page with your office pet arrangement, but they also might not want to speak up and risk judgment. Rekhi said that employers should make it simple for workers to report their concerns to HR. Also, consider allowing them to do so anonymously.
"Keep in mind that some employees may have allergies or phobias to pets that can make your workplace unfriendly if you don't establish a great pet policy," she said.