Risks and rewards of pet policies from an employment attorney and a personal injury attorney.
Author: Sarah Sawyer in collaboration with guest author Ryan Dickriede.
Over the last twenty years, office culture has changed dramatically. Advances in technology have led to increased flexibility for employees as many tasks can now be completed remotely. Employees are more likely to work non-set hours. The tech start-up culture of craft beer and ping-pong in the office, and flexible workspaces and schedules has caught on in other industries. Employers are increasingly taking strides to add home comforts to the workplace to entice employees to spend time in the office. One trend in particular is growing in popularity: bring your dog to work.
From my perspective as an employment attorney, whose job it is to protect employers from liability and general mayhem, these policies give me cause for concern. Although an employee may be solely responsible for their dog’s behavior when that dog is at home, if the dog is allowed to be in the workplace, that responsibility may now be shared with the employer. If the dog bites another employee, or worse, a visitor, there is a strong legal argument that the company is on the hook for damages. Also, if an employee, including the owner themselves, is injured by the dog on company property during the workday, the company will likely be liable for workers’ compensation benefits.
However, as a dog lover myself, I also understand the positive cultural implications of such policies and the desire to provide employees the option as a competitive “perk” of employment. So, instead of taking a hard line against pets at work policies, I often work with companies to find a way to make these policies work and limit their liability. This can be a bit a tight line to walk.
Fortunately for me, I have my own dog bite expert in my husband, who is a personal injury attorney and has firsthand knowledge litigating dog bite cases. Based on our conversations, below are the “musts” for every bring your dog to work policy from both a liability and cultural standpoint:
- Ensure your policies and procedures take into account other employees’ potential concerns, e.g., allergies, fear of dogs, etc.
- Position the ability to bring a dog to the office as a privilege, not a right, leaving yourself maximum flexibility to discontinue the policy or remove particular dogs from the office.
- Address situations where an employee may ask to bring their dog to the office as an ADA accommodation for a disability and the procedure the company will follow.
- Have an employee handbook that clearly lays out the rules regarding bringing a dog to work, including: how it needs to be restrained, does it need to be neutered, are specific breeds prohibited, is there a size limit to a dog, are obedience classes a prerequisite, does each dog get a trial period?
- Have any employee who brings their dog to the office execute an agreement:
a. indemnifying the company for any harm or damage the dog may cause, regardless of fault;
b. certifying that the dog is not known to be aggressive and has never bitten anyone;
c. agreeing to pay for any damage to company or employee property caused by the dog;
d. confirming that they have home or renter’s insurance that would cover a dog bite incident, making it less likely for an injured party to sue the company;
e. Confirming the dog is up-to-date on its vaccinations and licensing.
Ultimately, bring your dog to work policies are feasible when you implement sound policies and procedures. As the employer, you can craft the rules any way you’d like. However, employers need to assess the benefits and risks of such policies and determine what works best for them.
ABOUT SARAH SAWYER
As an experienced business advisor and litigator, Sarah works with business owners to implement policies and practices that keep their businesses running smoothly, helps them avoid expensive legal battles, and fights for them when litigation arises. Sarah focuses her practice on providing her clients with general business advice, drafting and analyzing employment documents ranging from employment agreements and severance agreements to employee handbooks, and litigating all aspects of general civil and commercial disputes.
ABOUT RYAN DICKRIEDE
Ryan Dickriede is a civil litigator at Holzman & Associates, LLC who specializes in personal injury matters including, lead paint poisoning, automobile accidents, dog bite injuries, medical malpractice, slip-and-fall injuries, contract disputes, and employment-related matters.
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