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Caution: Puppies at work – some employers embracing pets in the office


Athena, a Bernese Mountain Dog who hangs out with Talent Canada's group publisher Todd Humber. Photo: Kathy Liotta

It was just past eight in the morning. Janelle Ramirez, a retail support worker in North York, Ont., hurried as she juggled preparing breakfast and making sure her work uniform stayed pressed.

It was her first day at her new part-time job. After staying cooped up at home for months, attending virtual classes and hunting employment opportunities online, it was nothing short of an exciting moment to finally work with people face-to-face.

But the frenzy slowly died down as a realization dawned on her: “I will need to leave Oreo home alone.”

Oreo, Janelle’s toy poodle, had been with her around the clock since the pandemic. Janelle’s routine largely depended on two things: her tasks and Oreo’s needs. They had kept each other company during lockdowns, which according to her, kept them both “entertained and sane.”

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Instead of risking leaving a whining puppy at her rented apartment and possibly getting in trouble for it, or forking out a good sum for doggy day care, Janelle mustered the confidence to message the boss she has yet to meet: “Can I bring my dog to work?”

A telling ‘tail’

Big companies like Amazon, Google, Zynga, and Ben & Jerry’s have been applauded in the recent years for their initiatives and continued efforts to provide a pet-friendly workplace to their employees, some of which even offer bonus employee benefits that extend to their furry friends, such as pet insurance and in-office pet treats.

Such practices were considered innovative and unique, until the pandemic pushed more companies to consider the perk.

In a survey conducted by Narrative Research on behalf of Pet Valu, the adoption rates for pets spiked by 37 per cent in Ontario and 36 per cent for British Columbia. Nationwide, there are an estimated three million additional pets across Canadian households.

“Our numbers are going to be up by 70 per cent,” said Rodney Kaufman, owner of Corporate Canine Therapy (CCT), a Toronto-based company that provides the service of trained therapy dogs and their handlers to workplaces and private environments. “We are booked for about 15 events a month by now, and offices are just reopening.”

This growth to their service and clientele may be indicative of how some organizations perceive pets at work: A need.

“The offices we visit have office dogs or do allow pets inside, and we find that those who work there seem to be a little more chill and more conducive. If they can take two minutes out and go to the hall, give Fido a head rub, it changes their demeanor. And it has a lasting effect,” said Kaufman.

“They may not be aware of it, but it’s calmed them down and made them a little more approachable — put them in a better mood. There are many offices that we have gone to, and they end up bringing in more dogs because they see its benefits.”

Gearing up for a pet-friendly workplace

Nasim Jindani, administrative manager of a scuba dive center in Richmond Hill, Ont., shared that having a pet-friendly workplace displays support to a broader base of customers, but that it doesn’t come without a cost.

“The issue becomes one of insurance and liability,” said Jindani. “We have lots of machinery in the back end of the store, and it can pose risks both to our staff, the animal, and its owner.”

Brittany Taylor, partner at Rudner Law in Markham, Ont., touched on this, highlighting the importance for an employer’s obligation to “take all the reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of its workers.”

The obligation can be as direct as not allowing animals on site if it presents health and safety risk to its staff. Otherwise, if an employee is injured at work as a result of a pet, “the employer would have the same reporting obligations and liabilities as they would with any other kind of workplace injury.”

The liability also extends to property to damage or injury to a pet. As advised by Taylor, employers should carefully review their lease — if applicable — to determine if pets are permitted in the premises.

“They may also want to review their insurance policy to see if their coverage would protect them against any damage or injuries — to pets or humans — that could arise,” said Taylor.

Are companies ready to let the dogs in?

While in theory, it is an enticing offer to pet lovers to see that a company allows pets at work —and could be a deciding factor to some to take a new position or stay in their current role — there is much consideration for employers to put in that aspect.

According to Taylor, any employer considering implementing a pet-friendly office should prepare a written policy with respect to same and ensure all employees are aware of the contents.

“Any and all issues relating to employees bringing pets to work should be addressed within this policy, eliminating any confusion in this regard.”

How detailed does the policy need to be?

“Most of the time, when we think about pet-friendly offices, we think about dogs or cats,” said Taylor. But that isn’t always the case, and it is something that should be clearly stated in the policy. “There are many other kinds of pets that an employee could have.”

Pets can be anything – including different species such as rodents, reptiles and fish.

“Employers will want to consider what types of animals will be permitted in the workplace and ensure all staff are aware of any limitations.”

Apart from laying down a clear list of guidelines, companies should also consider human rights issues. Simply put, not everyone is an animal lover. As expounded by Taylor, employers will need to look into concerns about employees or workplace visitors who dislike pets.

“Beyond simply disliking certain animals, some people may have a severe fear of them or allergies. In cases where the person’s objection to being around animals is based on their membership in a protected ground — such as disability or religion — an employer has the duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.”

What’s in it for the employees?

An online survey commissioned by PetSafe from Leger Omnibus found 51 per cent of Canadian employees want pet-friendly workplaces, supporting colleagues bringing pets to the workplace “even if they don’t have a pet of their own.”

Kaufman of CCT shares some benefits to this: “It reduces stress levels, boosts productivity in the workplace. Studies show that petting a dog lowers blood pressure and helps with cardiovascular health. It releases oxytocin and produces the automatic relaxation response.”

Furthermore, the benefits extend to human resource departments — and employees in general — as having pets in the workplace “encourages communication and builds teamwork,” said Kaufman.

“It helps with workplace interaction as people start talking about their dogs and their life experiences. It’s become a way for team building and bonding, and that’s what HR departments are looking for.”

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