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Pets in Workplace Wellness Programs: Benefits and Legal Risks

The following article does NOT constitute legal advice and should not be used as such. It is for educational purposes only. Readers should retain legal counsel to obtain definitive answers.

There are many different ways employers can help employee wellness. One way that is gaining popularity is the creation of “pet-friendly” workplaces. Companies like Google and Amazon allow employees to bring their pet dogs to work, and a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that in 2015, 8% of respondents reported their workplaces permitted pets, up from 5% in 2013. See

According to one study, allowing employees to bring dogs to work may result in:

  • Reduced stress
  • More relaxation
  • Improved performance
  • Positive social interactions at work
  • Increased communication with other employees
  • A better mood

Id. Another wellness benefit of pet-friendly workplaces may include encouraging employees to take healthy walking breaks with their dog instead of sitting at their desk. All of these benefits are exactly the type of benefits workplace wellness programs try to achieve.

Despite these potential benefits, before adopting a pet-friendly workplace as part of an employer’s wellness efforts, employers should weigh the various risks. Some risks might include:

  • Claims of discrimination by employees who want to bring a pet other than a dog (for example, because of certain cultural or religious beliefs)
  • Creation of workplace hazards that violate the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
  • Violating building lease agreements that do not allow animals on the premises
  • Risks of injury to individuals or property by the pet
  • Increased requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA by employees who may be allergic to the pets allowed at work
  • Increased risk of injury to the animal because of workplace hazards or interactions with other employees’ pets.

Some employers not only allow pets in the workplace, but are providing pet-friendly amenities and benefits such as dog treats, pet waste disposal materials, dog-sized water fountains, pet washing stations and grooming services, pet training, doggy daycare, pet insurance, wellness checkups for pets, among other benefits.1

If an employer intends to adopt a pet-friendly work environment, then the best way to reduce many of these risks is to have strong policies governing the presence of pets in the workplace. These policies should address:

  • The types of animals allowed in the workplace
  • The size or breeds of animals allowed
  • The number of animals each employee may bring per day
  • The number of animals that may be brought into the workplace as a whole, if necessary due to space constraints
  • The times and/or places where pets may be present
  • The need for all pets to be properly licensed and vaccinated according to local requirements
  • The need for all pets to be properly trained
  • The prohibition against animal abuse
  • Designated areas where pets are not allowed
  • Liability waivers that employees must sign regarding the presence of their pets in the workplace
  • How to complain about the pet policy
  • Employee discipline when employees violate the pet policies

Of course, having these policies in place will not eliminate all issues concerning pets in the workplace. Employees may still request accommodations that are outside the employer’s pet policies, such as requesting to bring a certain animal, or a certain size animal that is otherwise not allowed under the pet policy. In those circumstances, the employer will need to determine whether the request falls under a reasonable accommodation request protected by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act or a state law. In those situations, employers should seek legal counsel to determine their obligations under federal and state disability protection laws.

The Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC can help create pet-friendly workplace policies and address service animal requests.

1 Practical Law Practice Note w-013-5647, Service Animals and Pets in the Workplace (2019).

Barbara Zabawa

Barbara J. Zabawa

President of the Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC

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