A few days ago, many companies celebrated ‘Take Your Dog To Work Day’. At an increasing number of companies, employees take their pets to work every day. At other companies, in the ever-changing quest to be the cool kid on the block offering the latest and greatest benefits, the newest perk appears to be puppy playtime. Google, Aetna and Intel are among the companies that have partnered with a non-profit that brings trained pets into the workplace to reduce employee stress levels for a few hours a week, while Amazon, Google, Ticketmaster, Etsy and Salesforce allow employees to bring their pets to work on a routine basis.
Pets in the workplace has been a hot topic in various forms for a few years. The issue of therapy or service dogs specifically garnered attention from the DFEH in its 2016 amended regulations requiring businesses to individually assess whether allowing a support animal at work is a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee. The regulations define a “support animal” as “one that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities, such as major depression.” Anecdotally, we’ve also had an increase in hospitality clients who have questions about service dogs in restaurants and hotels. Given the media coverage and public trend of pet-friendly workplaces, businesses may face an uphill battle in establishing that allowing a support animal at work would be an undue hardship, which is the threshold for denying an accommodation. However, because I’m an employment lawyer, before opening your doggy doors to your employees’ four-legged friends, consider the arguments against a pet-friendly workplace which include potential liability for asthma-related disabilities, stress-related disabilities for those who may have a fear of pets, and even potential workers’ compensation claims for pet-related injuries. If you’re considering adopting a pet-friendly workplace culture, be sure to consider these risks and to implement thoughtful guidelines around the privilege to bring a pet to work, whether as an everyday occurrence or as a reasonable accommodation.