Off(ice) the Leash

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Having pets at the office is becoming a more and more common employee perk. Studies show that the practice can increase morale and even promote good health. Plus, everyone loves having a fuzzy little mascot to play with during the day. In many ways, office pets are a great idea, but you definitely need to carefully consider a few things before allowing them. If you create a clear, well-considered office pet policy at the outset, you’re much more likely to reap the benefits of four-legged pals and keep the potential problems to a minimum. Here are some things to consider before inviting Fido and Fluffy to the office.

Ensure that everyone is on board. While most people love—or at least like—pets, they may not be everyone’s cup of catnip. Check with affected employees to make sure they’re OK with having an animal or two around, and to make sure no one is allergic to pet dander. You might consider taking an anonymous poll so that everyone feels comfortable answering honestly and won’t feel like the office killjoy if they’re not into it. If you work for a larger company, double-check to make sure that having pets in your particular office doesn’t contradict an overarching policy.

Check your legal boxes. If you get the go-ahead, consult with your insurance company to see what you can do to protect your company from any legal responsibilities should a pet cause damages. You may need to have employees sign paperwork to accept certain liabilities. If you rent your office space, make sure you have approval from your landlord before instituting a pet-friendly policy.

Pet-proof your space. Trash bins, cords, stray pencils—almost anything in an office can be an irresistible temptation for curious or hungry pets. Use trash cans with lids, and secure all cords. Small pet gates can corral pets in their human companion’s cubicle. And speaking of office furniture, be mindful of roller chairs—it’s easy to roll right over Fido’s paw.

Provide structure. Having a large number of animals in the office five days a week can be a recipe for chaos. Try designating a particular day of the week as Pet Day, and limit the number of animals allowed at any one time. Work out a schedule so that everyone can have a chance to bring their pet in. If that’s working, you can always increase the number of days and pets. Start slow; it’s harder to decrease this kind of benefit without hurt feelings.

It’s also beneficial to set up pet-free areas around the office.These may be spaces that pose danger to pets, or they may be places for employees who want to take a break from the animals (as adorable as they may be), or who are allergic to them.

Get proof. Have employees provide documentation that their pets are up to date on all vaccines and are free of parasites that might spread to other pets.

Create strong guidelines. When crafting the rules for your workplace pet policy, be clear that each pet owner is responsible for supervising and cleaning up after their (well-behaved) pet. If that person attends a meeting, is visiting a client, or can’t be around for some other reason, they should make sure that someone else is willing and able to take over those duties for them. Remind employees to keep an extra eye on especially rambunctious or adventuresome pets. It should be clear that pets that have aggression or socialization issues with people or other pets should be left at home. Decide whether your policy will allow additional breaks for pet-hosting employees to accommodate bathroom and exercise outings during the workday.

Have fun! Pets are great for mood, morale, and human-to-human bonding. As long as everyone buys into the office policy, it’s one perk that can make the workplace a more enjoyable and cohesive environment.

Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.


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