There has been an increasing trend in recent years for employers to implement pet-friendly workplaces in an effort to boost employee morale and productivity. The basis of the concept is that pets are widely understood to have the effect of improving an individual’s mood and reducing levels of stress and anxiety – sentiments that are invaluable in a workplace (particularly high-intensity work environments).
Pet-friendly workplaces can take various forms such as allowing employees to bring their pets in to work with them, organising for animals to visit the workplace (e.g. some animal welfare organisations offer programs through which they bring animals up for adoption to visit a workplace) or even having an office pet.
The decision to make the workplace a pet-friendly one should not, however, be without careful thought as it is will have a significant effect on all employees and their experiences at work. There are a number of important practical and legal considerations that employers should take into account.
We have identified three key considerations that employers should address:
It should never be assumed that all employees will react positively to the introduction of pets into the workplace. There will doubtless be individuals who are not fond of pets or animals and do not want them in the workplace, which needs to be taken into consideration.
There is also the risk that employees may have allergies to some animals and cannot be near (or even in the same room) as a particular animal.
Consulting with employees about the possibility of bringing pets into the workplace will enable an employer to understand any issues or concerns that employees might have and to tailor a policy on pets in the workplace that adequately addresses those issues or concerns.
There are a number of variables and associated risks for employers to consider when determining what types of animals it will permit into the workplace, including:
Each work environment will have different responses to addressing these risks, but whatever those responses are, it is essential that employers clearly set the parameters of what ‘pet-friendly’ means in their workplace through a tailored policy.
Employers must also consider the environment in which they operate. For instance, it would not be appropriate to allow pets into a warehouse or some other area that operates high-risk machinery.
In some cases, it may be more practical for employers to create designated pet-friendly or pet-free areas to prevent safety concerns and maintain office cleanliness. Designated areas may also assist where employees raise concerns about pets in or around work areas.
Employers must also ensure that they set clear rules in relation to the responsibility that pet owners have when bringing their pets into the workplace. For example, pet owners should be advised that they are responsible for cleaning accidents and otherwise ensuring that their pet is not a disruption or nuisance in the workplace.
Employers should also consider insurance coverage and general liability for any damage to property or injury to people as result of the actions of a pet. Will you, as the employer, be liable for that damage or injury or, should you have the pet owners agree to accept any resulting liability? How is your workers compensation policy and premium affected in the event of an employee making a claim due to illness or injury as a result of a fellow employee’s pet? Who will be liable if one pet attacks and injures another pet?
Adopting a pet-friendly workplace philosophy requires a delicate balancing of the interests and rights of all employees, the welfare of the animals, together with the associated liability risks.
So, employers should consult with employees and if a decision is made to have a pet-friendly workplace then, we encourage employers to create a policy that clearly sets out the expectations and rules because it only takes one bad incident to ruin what should otherwise be a positive experience for employees and the animals.
Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.
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Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog.
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