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What to do with pandemic puppies after returning to the office

2020 has been a godsend for many dogs and their owners. Finding daycares or dog walkers was no longer a priority, and animal adoption flourished.

But with people returning to work, vets and animal care specialists say the problem of finding affordable child care – along with separation anxiety – is now a real concern.

For businesses where every day is the Take Your Dog to Work Day, employment lawyers imagine a number of ‘what if’ situations that could arise in the workplace, and they say employers should consider creating pet policies before problems arise.

“People have become so used to being at home with their pets, and I think you’re going to see more employees requesting this workplace benefit on a case-by-case basis,” says Lindsay Hamrick, director of Shelter Outreach & Commitment to human society.

Employment lawyer Terri Pastori acknowledges the difficulties many have faced over the past year and agrees with Hamrick that there may be an increase in the number of people asking to bring their dogs to work. An avowed dog lover, Pastori says the issue of pet policies in the workplace is a hot topic.

As it is, many companies that allow pets already don’t have formal policies setting out expectations, she says.

“Remote work has had an impact on the situation. People and their pets are used to being together during the day and there has been a spike in ownership. Life has changed so much because of COVID and we have broadened our view of workplaces. Employee morale and pets are important.

Dogs boost employee morale

The correlation between employee morale and bringing pets to work was the subject of a 2012 study by a group of researchers who published their findings in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. under the title “Preliminary investigation into the presence of employee dogs on stress and organizational perceptions.” “

The aim of the research was to determine whether bringing a dog to work caused stress and changed organizational perceptions.

Comparing three groups – NO DOG, NO PET and DOG – the study found that stress decreased for the DOG group with their dogs present and increased for the NO DOG and NO PET groups.

“The NO DOG group had (significantly) higher stress than the DOG group at the end of the day. A significant difference was found in the stress patterns of the DOG group on the days their dogs were present and away. of absence of the dog, the stress of the owners increased throughout the day, reflecting the model of the group NO DOG ”, indicates the study.

While some companies have inquired about workplace policies regarding service animals and emotional support animals, many people are unaware of the legal distinctions between the two, says Ashley Taylor, who practices law with Pastori. .

“Emotional support animals do not have the same access rights as service animals,” says Taylor. “The emotional support is just for housing. The requirements for service animals are strict … it’s not just about “my dog ​​calming me down”. “

But Pastori imagines that emotional support animals might meet the criteria for reasonable accommodation in certain situations.

“The standards for reasonable accommodation are flexible,” says Pastori. “There are rights for service dogs, and you wonder if emotional support animals could benefit from reasonable accommodation as well. “

The Legal What Ifs of Pets in the Workplace

There are two basic problems when advising employers on pet policies and they need to be addressed immediately, Taylor says. When writing a pet policy, the first step should be “what do you mean by pet”? Second step: “who will have an impact now or in the future?” “”

Some effects of having pets in the workplace are providing reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. The ADA defines a disability as anything that interferes with a major activity of life.

An employee or customer with a dog allergy, for example, could create a problem, Taylor says, and employers can’t screen everyone entering an office.

“Any pet policy should make it clear that it can be changed or removed at the employer’s discretion. An allergy problem, even a phobia in some cases, could be a handicap depending on how it manifests, ”she says. “I think you might find that some small businesses have had no problem having pets in the office. But it’s important to make sure everything is clearly presented to employees. What if someone new comes along with a new bad dog?

This could lead to retaliation in the workplace, explains Pastori, describing a situation in which someone is hired and suffers from a severe dog allergy, forcing the company to issue a general rule against dogs in the office. .

“People could get very angry with the employee they perceive to have ruined the favorable conditions allowing pets to work,” she said. “It’s a concern and what we think is the best practice is to anticipate these things in advance as employers structure policies.”

Who let the dogs in?

At Duckfeet USA in Portsmouth, 13 employees work in an open and relaxed workplace, complete with sofas and, for some, their dogs.

Every day, the Danish shoe company, which packs and distributes over 40,000 pairs of shoes a year, has up to four dogs sleeping or roaming around the office. On a Monday in mid-April, it was just Rue.

“We don’t have an official policy and it has worked well. People bring their dogs if they want, ”says co-owner Justin Brady. “Some dogs, of course, are unsuitable for the office because of barking and so on, but Rue is the perfect dog.” (Rucifer “Rue” Huxtable is a seven year old pug named after the character Rudy from Cosby lounge.)

“I would have a hundred pugs if I could,” says Brady’s wife Briggs, the company’s customer support specialist.

“It’s a ‘Grumble’,” says Meghan Lien.

“That’s right, a pack of pugs. I think it’s just three or more to make a growl, ”Brady said, joking with Lien.

Elsewhere in Portsmouth, Monica McCarthy, CEO of Seascape Capital Management, has Chloe, her six-year-old yellow lab, lying on the red carpet next to a large window overlooking the Piscataqua River.

“I felt guilty for putting her in daycare,” McCarthy says. “I discussed this with a friend who had a publicly traded business that allowed dogs and, he said, ‘It’s your business, so you can bring it in if you want.’ And it developed from there.

Seascape does not have an official pet policy, but McCarthy says there are ground rules and she always checks with clients who show up to the office to make sure they are not allergic. . “They have to love people, be home trained and can’t bark all day. Other than that we have had a great response from customers and our team love being able to bring their dogs.

McCarthy, who is on the NH SPCA board of directors, says shelters emptied when people returned home to work.

“They’re great for reducing stress, they get us out of our chairs, away from the screens in the fresh air, and they keep us down to earth, it’s really nice.”

Richard Fradette, a Manchester lawyer, has been running his 13-year-old chocolate lab Lincoln for years without any formal pet policy.

“We’re a small, very family-owned business,” says Fradette. “There is no formal policy, but we make sure the animal does not disturb office staff or clients.”

Fradette enjoys having Lincoln by his side during the day and says he’s never had a problem with a client.

“I always ask clients if they are concerned about my dog’s presence before bringing them to the office. To date, I have never had a client object. Usually it’s the opposite: customers can’t wait to see him and sent him treats, ”he says.

Make the return to work a smooth transition

Animal care specialist at Cilley veterinary clinic in Concord, Paul Bourget, says the return to work has already created an increase in the number of people seeking dog day care and veterinary care.

“Everyone in veterinary and animal care is being criticized right now. It’s because so many people have had pandemic puppies, ”Bourget explains. “If you can work from home, that’s good. Unfortunately, there are not many dog ​​day care centers in the Concord area. In rural New Hampshire, it’s hard to find a place. And some dogs are not equipped to be in the office.

For Taylor and Pastori, who thought about making the transition to work in the office easier for both employees and employers, it is essential to come up with “what if” scenarios regarding liability and a host of other pet issues. At work. .

“It helps to work on scenarios that might pose challenges,” says Pastori. “As an employer, you’ll want to have a process for people to apply when they bring a pet to work – vaccination history, temperament history, etc. – so that the company can approve or deny the request. “

For businesses that choose not to allow pets for practical reasons, Taylor suggests that some employers might offer workplace benefits, such as dog day care, access to pet insurance, and more. companionship, reduced prices, animal walker allowances or even gym memberships.

“For many people, your pet is part of the family,” Pastori adds. “These are just a few ideas that might not be so nice, but they recognize that pets are part of people’s families.”

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