Is the Workplace Going to the Dogs?

Mark Broth

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

In both the public and private sector, it is generally up to employers to decide whether employees will be allowed to bring their pets to work. In most workplaces, the risk of disruption, loss of productivity, and potential discomfort of other employees, customers or citizens have caused employers to adopt “no pet” policies. However, with the trend to more casual work environments, employers are often asked to relax “no pet” policies. Here are some questions and answers to consider regarding pets in the workplace.

Can an employer allow employees to bring pets to work?

The answer is generally yes. RSA 466:44 prohibits all animals except “service animals” from restaurants and food stores. For most other work environments, an employer may adopt a policy that allows employees to bring pets to work.

Can an employer place restrictions on the types of pets that employees bring to work?

The answer is yes. If an employer adopts a policy that allows employees to bring pets to work, there is risk of liability to the employer if the animal causes harm to a person or property. For that reason, it is prudent for employers to make reasonable rules regarding the types of pets that are permitted, such as limitations on size, requirements that the animals are of good behavior, and a requirement that they are under the owner’s control.  

If the employer does not like cats, can it adopt a “pets, but no cats” policy?

The answer is yes. At this point, neither federal nor state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of species.

If someone in the workplace is allergic to dogs, does an employer have to abandon it pet-friendly policies?

The answer is maybe. Some people experience potentially life threatening allergic reactions when exposed to certain animals. For other employees, the allergic reaction may not be life threatening, but it can certainly be unpleasant and impact an employee’s ability to do his/her job. Employees with severe allergies may be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state disability laws. If an employee claims that the presence of pets will trigger an allergic reaction, employers must try and find a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to work without the health risk posed by the presence of animals. This might be accomplished by prohibiting pets from certain work areas or prohibiting pets altogether. Employers may seek information from the employee’s health care provider to determine what restrictions on pets in the workplace might be put in place that would allow the employee to work without experiencing a health risk while maintaining a pet-friendly environment. Depending on the severity of the employee’s allergy and the configuration of the workplace, it might not be possible to establish an accommodation other than abandoning the pet-friendly policy.

Are there circumstances where an employer must allow employees to bring animals to work?

The answer is yes. Under the ADA, employers may be required to allow employees with disabilities to bring their “service animals” to work. Title I of the ADA, which covers public and private sector employment, does not define what constitutes a “service animal”. For purposes of Title II (public facilities) and Title III of the ADA (places of public accommodation), “service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” New Hampshire RSA 167-D:4 similarly requires places of public accommodation to allow service dogs. Animals other than dogs, whether or not they have specialized training, are not considered service animals for purposes of Title II or III, or RSA 167-D:4. As a result, a town hall (public facility) or movie theater (public accommodation) must allow a person with a disability to enter the building with a service dog, but not with any other service animal, regardless of the animal’s training. However, as Title I of the ADA does not contain a similar definition of “service animal”, employers may have to consider allowing employees with disabilities to bring their specially trained dogs or other service animals to work.

But what if having my cat at work makes me feel better?

Service animals, by definition, are not pets, but are specially trained to perform services for persons with disabilities. Animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not usually qualify as service animals. “Fluffy” stays home.

What if I have an employee who is severely allergic to dogs and another employee with a disability who uses a service dog?

The ADA requires that the employer make efforts to reasonably accommodate the needs of both employees. This could require reassignment of work locations, schedule changes, or other adjustments that would allow these employees to avoid contact.

What if my employee’s service animal behaves badly?

Titles I, II and III of the ADA all allow employers to exclude service animals that are not housebroken, that display vicious behavior towards others, that are out of control, disruptive, or otherwise represent a threat to the health and safety of others.

Practical Considerations. Employers that choose to allow pets at work should establish pet-related rules so that all employees know what to expect. These include rules relating to breaks, work interference, cleanliness and general courtesy. While Fido may be welcome in the workplace, employees must understand that the people in the office still have work to do.

Mark Broth is a member of the DrummondWoodsum’s Labor and Employment Group and his practice focuses on the representation of private and public employers in all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. This is not a legal document nor is it intended to serve as legal advice or a legal opinion. Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, P.A. makes no representations that this is a complete or final description or procedure that would ensure legal compliance and does not intend that the reader should rely on it as such. “Copyright 2013 Drummond Woodsum. These materials may not be reproduced without prior written permission.”