In an environment where unemployment remains low and workers have options, employers continue to find ways to build value and retain talented workers.

One such trend includes allowing employees to bring their dogs to work.

In some situations for disability reasons, employers will be legally required to allow an employee to bring a service animal to work. These cases have legal implications and employers will need to address such requests through an interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations.

Voluntarily allowing employees to bring pets to work should be viewed more as a benefit program for employees.

Henrico County-based Rawls Law Group began allowing employees to bring dogs to work about two years ago. Brewster Rawls, the firm’s founder, said that in his small office of 13 employees, he didn’t create a policy or make an announcement about it. He just started to bring his dog. He said his firm has not encountered any negative issues with the program.

“Honestly, everyone seems to like having dogs around,” he said.

Rawls said no employee has complained nor expressed allergy concerns or fear of animals. He said he occasionally will be on the phone and has to explain why a dog is barking, but the majority of the people on the phone respond with good humor. He also said his dog doesn’t generally like to share the office with others, but it hasn’t been a problem and others bring their dogs without incident.

“If you can do this, I really recommend it. It’s an easy and free morale boost,” he said.

Employers considering such a program should first poll the office. Two very real deterrents include allergies and fear of animals. The program needs to be a favorable experience for all employees. I recommend after polling the office to create a list of expectations for anyone bringing his or her dog.

Those expectations should include that the employee will make sure that the dog is under control of the owner or someone at all times, is fully trained to avoid bathroom accidents and is not aggressive. The employer should be able to remove the program, or any specific pet, at any time.

For larger offices, employers may need to set limits such as the number of dogs that can be brought into the office, which may require a rotating sign-up for when employees will bring in their pets.

Some employers also may have to clear bringing dogs into the office with the landlord.

Richmond Animal Care and Control offers what it calls “casual Friday” where the shelter will bring a dog to the workplace to foster for a day. Organizations interested in fostering through RACC can contact Robin.young@richmondgov.com.

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Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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