See Spot Run … Into Your Weekly Board Meeting

Take Your Dog to Work Day raises hygiene, health and distraction issues

By Dana Wilkie May 29, 2014

A few weeks from now, workplaces across America will be accommodating an unusual kind of visitor: The canine kind. 

June 20 is Take Your Dog to Work Day (TYDTWDay), which is designed not just for seeing-eye dogs, but for any dog—from the yappy terrier to the gargantuan Great Dane.

This raises all sorts of questions for workplace managers: Where do you put them? Do they stay put? Should leashes be required? What about workers with allergies? Or phobias? What if a gaggle of the creatures starts barking uncontrollably? And what about … you know … little accidents on the carpet?

“Some first-time participants have concerns about organizing an event that allows dogs in the workplace. But once companies participate and see what fun the day is, they choose to participate year after year,” according to Beth Stultz, marketing and communications manager for Pet Sitters International (PSI), a King, N.C.-based educational organization for professional pet sitters that created TYDTWDay and that encourages employers to open the office, the factory floor and even the retail outlet to workers’ four-legged friends.

This year marks the 16th annual TYDTWDay. The aim is to celebrate the human-canine bond and promote pet adoptions from shelters, rescue groups and humane societies. 

Man’s Best Friend: By the Numbers 

Nearly 57 million U.S. households have a dog, according to the 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s more than the number that have cats (45 million), freshwater fish (14 million), birds (7 million) or reptiles (about 6 million). 

Only 5 percent of U.S. companies allow pets at the workplace, according to Lisa Orndorff, who heads up employee relations and engagement for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

However, according to an APPA 2008 poll, 17 percent of working Americans 18 or older reported that their company permitted pets at work. In 2012, the group reported that workers were bringing their dogs to work more frequently—with respondents indicating they did so on average 22 times in 2012, compared with 17 times in 2008. 

The same survey found that:

  • 75 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace makes people happier.
  • 70 million believe it reduces stress.
  • 47 million believe it leads to a more creative environment.
  • 37 million believe it decreases absenteeism.
  • 41 million believe it helps co-workers get along better.
  • 46 million believe it creates a more productive work environment.
  • 23 million believe it decreases smoking at work. 

Not for Everyone

Yet several online comments about pets at work posted below a Mother Nature Network story reveal just how divisive the practice can be. Those supporting the practice wrote posts like these:

“I've been lucky to have worked for several companies that were pet friendly, and it does boost morale to have pets around. [T]here's nothing like walking into the president of the company's office and finding him on the floor in his three-piece suit playing with a fluffy little kitten!”

“I'd rather tolerate an over-friendly lab than an over-friendly co-worker. Fewer humans are work-compatible than animals, although both need boundaries.”

Other commenters were less than enthusiastic about the idea: 

“If you become allergic to dogs/cats and have to give up your job in this economy because Fido HAS to be at the office, you will change your mind very quickly on this issue.”

“I used to work in a home office that had a St. Bernard. The drool was absolutely disgusting. He would constantly shake his head and get slime on me, in my hair, on my desk, on my keyboard, and on my monitor. It was so gross!”

“We had it for many years, and it turned into too much distraction ... the final straw was a man’s dog bit a young woman on the face.”

The latter comments raise several concerns about dogs at work, including allergies, distractions, hygiene issues and dog attacks. 

Addressing Challenges

Before allowing pets in the office, Orndorff said in an e-mail interview, managers must consider allergies, phobias, barking and sanitation—particularly in places such as restaurants and food manufacturing plants. She said companies that allow pets should consult with their attorneys to ensure their policies address animal behavior, immunizations, hygiene and any damage or injuries pets may cause. 

For instance, pet owners are legally responsible for any injury or damage caused by their pet. However, employers should check with their insurer to ensure that their liability policy covers the event. Owners whose dogs display aggressive behavior should be asked to remove them from the office.

When it comes to employees’ allergies, dog owners should bathe their pets thoroughly before the event to remove the dander buildup that can trigger allergies. Dogs should not be in the immediate work area of an employee with allergies, and companies should designate areas that are dog-free. 

“Events like these are most usually communicated well in advance and in plenty of time for those who have allergies or aren’t dog lovers to perhaps take one of the many days of vacation that workers in America would usually forfeit, or take advantage of a flexible work arrangement by teleworking that day or taking their compressed day when the dogs accompany their humans to work,” Orndorff said. 

A dog should be kept on a leash, said Stultz, unless it’s in the employee’s office or cubicle. Baby gates can prevent dogs from roaming unsupervised. “In the middle of an important sales call or during a visit from a business partner is not the best time for Fido to dash out of your office,” she said. And it might be helpful to provide outdoor baggies for dog-walking. 

Stultz also suggested that employers consider building codes as well. If the office space is leased, management may need a landlord’s permission for dogs to be on the premises. 

Finally, she added, employees should have a back-up plan for taking a dog home if it’s not comfortable in the work environment—such as dropping the pet off with a spouse, friend or professional pet sitter. 

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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