Pattie Hunt Sinacole addresses accommodations and dogs

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Q:  I have a specific question for you.  I work for a company that is casual and flexible.  We can choose how to dress.  We have a ton of flexibility.  They provide meals sometimes.  They often have fun events for us, like cookouts, dinner cruises and mental health days.  A few people have started bringing their dogs to work.  I like dogs but I am highly allergic.  When I am in the office, I have to dodge dogs and if they get too close, my asthma starts acting up.  I am afraid that if this continues, I will have to leave the company.

A: Your employer sounds like a great place.  It sounds like they are very employee oriented.  From the employee events to cookouts, it sounds like they are trying hard to attract, retain and engage talent.

Some of my clients permit employees to bring dogs to work.  However, I understand your concern.  No one should have to be fearful if they walk to the photocopier or the lunch room.

When an employer permits a dog to accompany an owner to work, most employers share a few requirements to ensure the safety of all:

1. A current vet record should be provided stating that the animal is up to date on all vaccinations, etc.

2. The dog must be house-trained and well-behaved with no history of aggressive behavior.

3. All dogs should be treated humanely and given water and breaks outside on a regular basis.

4. The dog must be restrained while on company property.  Some dog owners use crates while some use gates or leashes.

5. Create spaces where pets are not allowed.  Examples may include kitchens, bathrooms and conference rooms.

Pre-approval by the landlord may be required.  Some companies require a signed release from the dog’s owner before bringing the dog into the workplace.

In your situation, you may be covered under federal or state law.  There are two laws to consider: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws.  As you may have guessed, ADA is the federal law and 151B is the state law.  Though similar, both laws prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. You may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation.  A reasonable accommodation requires an employer to modify or change an employee’s role to help them be successful in their job.

One of my clients allows employees to bring in their dogs but only on Fridays.  A scheduled day might be a reasonable compromise for both the dog owners and you.  If implemented, you could schedule a work-at-home day on Friday and dog owners could bring their dogs to work on Fridays.

I love most dogs but like you.  I think it is wise for an employer to provide rules addressing bringing pets into the workplace so everyone has a shared an understanding of how it will work.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.