When Kevin Twomey started a new position at a dog-friendly marketing agency in Toronto, he took the opportunity to bring in his English cocker spaniel, Cuba, for some furry company on the job.
But Cuba’s first day was far from smooth. Mr. Twomey says Cuba ran around stealing food from the bowls of other office dogs, crashed a meeting in the boardroom that had food out on the table (“Cuba is extremely food-motivated,” he says) and barked hysterically at a life-sized plastic sheep that was being stored in the office.
Not long after the barking incident, the chief financial officer and head of facilities knocked on the door of Mr. Twomey’s office, relaying complaints of Cuba’s barking and menacing behaviour. “They said, ‘We need to keep Cuba in your office or else we’re gonna have to send him home,’” he recalls. A day later, he received an officewide e-mail from HR. “It said that in the future, if you bring a dog into the office, they all have to be vetted and have an ‘interview’ with our head of HR,” Mr. Twomey says. “So, because of Cuba’s antics, he set the tone for all future dogs to have to be interviewed.”
The prevalence of dogs in the office is growing. A Society for Human Resource Management’s employee benefits survey from 2018 showed that 9 per cent of U.S. respondents work in pet-friendly offices, compared with 4 per cent in 2014. But to avoid firing any office dogs, workplaces should put policies into place ahead of inviting in furry friends.
Pets are forbidden at Hamilton City Hall. But after Mayor Fred Eisenberger brought in his golden doodle Dash, part-time employee Susan Creer, who suffers from allergies and asthma, filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She claims Mr. Eisenberger had been “flouting the rules” for three years, according to a Hamilton Spectator article from June. Hamilton City Hall responded by allowing pets and is considering developing a policy around bringing pets to work.
At Ample Organics, a cannabis-software company based in Toronto, the dog policy is clearly stated in the employee handbook. They looked to companies such as Google for creating their own dog policy.
“Dogs must be properly licensed and vaccinated before entering the Ample Organics office,” the policy reads. “Aggressive behaviour such as growling, barking, chasing or biting is unacceptable and the pet will have to be taken home upon first complaint.”
“The way that our policy is written, it’s a bit more strict than what it is in practice,” explains Rhonda Morris, director of people and culture at Ample Organics. For example, the policy states that dogs that have more than one “accident” will be asked to go home. But Ms. Morris says it’s meant as more of a safeguard to help manage unruly dogs if needed. Having a dog policy in place can help minimize or prevent altercations before dogs are invited into the workplace and ensure all employees are on board.
Ten to 12 dogs visit the Ample Organics office of about 120 employees on a rotating basis, including an office pig named Murphy. Ms. Morris recognizes that finding a dog sitter or walker can be expensive and stressful, but that employees should always come first. “The importance is making sure that our employees feel comfortable,” she says. “We would never put them in a situation where they would feel fearful.”
Their dog policy has been a success so far. Ms. Morris says she hasn’t yet had to “fire” a dog but that she keeps an open door for any concerns from individuals over allergies or fearful behaviour. When possible, Ms. Morris will try and find a compromise – restricting the number of pet visits, relocation of a workspace or flexibility with the company’s work-from-home policy. For example, dogs might be allowed in on days when an employee who is allergic to dogs is working from home.
While it’s common sense to ensure a dog is friendly, well-behaved and toilet-trained before bringing them into the workplace, the responsibility is equally on the dog owner’s behaviour. “Be prepared that your day is probably going to be a little bit more disruptive than it would be on a normal day,” Mr. Twomey says. “If you have back-to-back meetings, it’s not fair on the dog or your colleagues to have to look after your dog.”
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