Many employers have a policy that allows employees to bring dogs to work, either regularly or on occasion. Studies indicate that having pets around helps to lower stress levels, and also encourages more social behavior both among pet owners and their coworkers. Yale Law School, for example, makes a therapy dog available for 30-minute borrows during some periods each semester. See Monty the Therapy Dog, Yale Law School Website, (last visited Apr. 5, 2012); Timothy Williams, For Law Students With Everything, Dog Therapy for Stress, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 21, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/education/22dog.html. Bringing a pet to work may lower the owner’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Pets may also encourage communication between coworkers as they bond over common pet ownership or when those without pets at work ask pet owners for some time with the pet. See Eryn Brown, Bringing your dog to work can ease stress, study finds, L.A. TIMES (March 30, 2012), http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-pets-at-work-stress-20120331,0,6213318.story.
While there appear to be benefits to policies permitting pet presence, employers should keep a few things in mind in developing and implementing them, including:
- The policy should make it clear that the employer retains discretion regarding time, place, and frequency of pet visits, and also regarding specific pets.
- The policy should note that some employees may have pet-related conditions that qualify as disabling, like phobias or allergies. There should be a supervisor or human relations mechanism for reporting these concerns which should provide reporting employees with help and confidentiality.
- Employers should consider liability issues—there are various formats that can be considered for publishing the policy and a waiver, and employers will want to think about what works best for them. One issue, for example, is whether a waiver will be signed only by pet-owning employees, or by all employees.
- The policy should address facilities issues.
- The policy should address office areas that are off-limits to pets.
- Employers may want to address issues of providing pets with food and water, and the related use of company resources.