Pets at the Office (or What to Do When Your Cat Sends
an Email to a Client)
When I left home every morning to start my 12-hour day at my old firm, the
eight sad eyes of my three rabbits and one cat would follow me out the door.
So when I started my own practice, I was elated to be able to share the day
Since starting my practice, I (and some of my colleagues) have learned a few
- Staples and PetsMart should merge because many office supplies
double as pet toys.
- When a client wearing a dark suit visits your office, don’t
let her sit in the cat’s chair.
- Judges are not sympathetic when you announce that your dog ate
- Minimize all computer windows before leaving your desk to avoid
inadvertent e-mails, text deletions, etc.
- Pets are great for keeping squirrels and birds from your office
- Cats like to meow into phone receivers.
- You actually have more credibility with clients when you have
an animal sitting in your lap.
As I own the building where my office is located, these trinkets are among
my biggest concerns. However, for those working in rental or condominium office
space, or in an employer’s building, office pets must be considered more
Positively, studies have shown that allowing employees to bring pets (usually
dogs) to work offers many benefits. Employees have reduced stress, work longer
hours, experience increased morale and camaraderie, and even smoke less. Moreover,
a pet-friendly office attracts employees seeking progressive work environments.
On the other hand, concerns regarding pets at the office cannot be ignored.
Many people have legitimate (or purported) animal allergies, fears and other
sensitivities. Animals can create liability issues. Cleanliness can be a challenge.
And some feel pets disrupt office activities with no compensating benefits.
In the middle is the need to comply with lease provisions, association by-laws,
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations and other requirements regarding
animals. So when counseling a client interested in establishing a pet-friendly
office, ensure that she weighs the pros and cons as well as any legal issues.
Then help her establish pet policies that work for everyone. An effective policy
- Granting permission on a revocable, pet-specific basis.
- Requiring thorough clean-up of accidents and/or fines for any
- Setting a “three accidents (by the pet, not the owner) and you’re
- Setting a “one act of aggression (again, by the pet) and you’re
- Requiring that pets be clean, flea-free and vaccinated.
- Requiring that pets be spayed/neutered – not de-clawed,
as many consider such to be inhumane.
- Requiring that pets be leashed and/or under the control of the
employee at all times.
- Making conference, food, medical and industrial/shop areas off-limits.
- Requiring that pets be covered by the employees’ personal
- Requiring that pets be even-tempered, socialized and quiet.
The policy also should stress that the employer is a business, and that pets
should not compromise its operations or the comfort of staff and visitors.
To ease the process, a pet-friendly policy can be phased-in by, e.g., first
allowing pets just one day per week, or limiting the number of pets allowed
in the office at any time. Lastly, to accommodate future employee sensitivities,
a pet policy may need adjusting down the line, from designating only a portion
of the office as pet-friendly to completely restricting animal visitors.
Employers unable to accommodate pets but desiring an animal-friendly image
might consider adding veterinary insurance to their benefits package. Vet insurance
also reduces employee absenteeism and stress from sick pet care.
Although some might consider office pets to be ridiculous, statistics suggest
otherwise. Two-thirds of American households include at least one pet – twice
as many as include children. One in five employers allows pets at work. OSHA
has no restrictions against animals in the workplace. And today it’s
not difficult to establish that someone is entitled to an exception to some
pet ban due to emotional stress.
As Americans work longer hours, many not only feel guilty about leaving their
pets alone all day, but miss the companionship and stress-relief garnered from
them. Pet-friendly policies can enhance a work environment, but only to the
extent that the comfort level of the humans is considered
… and fuzzy paws are kept away from keyboards.
Angela Robinson is the Principal of A.S. Robinson & Associates,
PLLC. She concentrates her practice in business, real estate and environmental