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Nov 9, 2018
Services: Employment Law

PET FRIENDLY WORKPLACES: Legal Issues for Employers to Consider

In recent years we have witnessed an increasing amount of businesses and workplaces opening their doors to our four-legged fluffy friends. Some employers have fully embraced the pet-friendly trend and are offering creative perks to pawrents such as pet insurance, discounts for doggy daycare, dog walking, bereavement leave in the case of a pet’s death, and on-site amenities such as water bowls, treats, beds, and toys.

Companies who have implemented pet-friendly workplaces are reporting the following benefits:

  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased productivity
  • Less employee absenteeism
  • Boosted workplace morale
  • Increased employee retention
  • A competitive advantage in recruitment
  • Positive attention in the media

ISSUES TO CONSIDER

Employers that decide to adopt a pet-friendly workplace need to ensure that they have a formal policy in place as there are several potential issues and liabilities to consider:

Lease Agreements

Employers will want to be sure that they are not in breach of a term in their lease (if they have one) that prohibits tenants from bringing animals onto the premises.

Damage to Property

Pets can cause damage to property and absent an agreement stating otherwise, employers will likely be liable for this damage.  

Allergies

An animal allergy could be considered a disability. If so, employers are expected to accommodate employees with allergies to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation may include pet-free areas, more frequent cleaning, and possibly reverting to a pet-free environment.

Liability for Injuries

Injuries to Workers - Pet-related injuries to employees in the workplace (e.g. bites, allergy relates illnesses etc.) may be covered by WSIB. However, even if covered, employers should consider the risk of injuries associated with permitting pets in the workplace, and the potential increase in WSIB premiums related to increased claims.

Injuries to Visitors - Injuries to visitors in the workplace would not be covered by WSIB and the employer may be held liable, along with the pet-owner, if a pet injures a visitor at work.

Injuries to Pets - Employers could also be held liable if a pet injures another employee’s pet at work. Further, an employer could be held liable for injuries sustained by the employee’s pet in the workplace.

Creating a Pet-Friendly Policy

Given the foregoing, it is important to have a detailed pet policy/agreement in place. Such a policy should include terms such as:

  • An Authorization Process – Employers should be ensuring that the pet is properly registered with the City, healthy, vaccinated, flea treated and has no history of violence against people or other pets. Employers will also need to clearly establish which types of pets are allowed and which ones are not.

  • A Probationary Period

  • Behaviour Restrictions – The employer will want to create a policy that outlines the proper procedure for cleaning pet “accidents” and a zero-tolerance policy for biting and other dangerous or nuisance behaviours.

  • Location Restrictions – Employers should consider establishing a “pet free zone” for employees with allergies or fear of animals.

  • Supervision Requirements – Employers will want to establish rules that ensure that no pet is left unattended. The employer will want to specify the proper procedure for pet supervision while the owner is away from their work station or in a meeting.

  • A Process for Addressing Concerns and Resolving Complaints – Employers can delegate this to a pet committee or HR representative. The employer will likely want to include a policy that allows them to unilaterally revoke pet privileges if need be.

  • A Waiver of Employer Liability – e.g. the employer will not be expected to provide a “pet friendly” environment free from any hazards to pets such as wires, open garbage cans etc. Further, the employer will want to consider implementing requirements that employees (a) be financially responsible for any injuries or damage caused by their pet and (b) sign an indemnity agreement and/or obtain comprehensive insurance that covers injuries and damage to property.

Employers that would like to implement a pet-friendly workplace should seek out employees’ input prior to implementing the change. Devising a “pet-friendly workplace policy” can also help employers workout if the idea is feasible.

Related Team

Marni Outerbridge

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstance.