When an employee of the Killeen Daily Herald in Texas experienced a flea infestation at her desk due to a co-worker's cat, she first reported it to newspaper management and then – not satisfied with the response – complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The newspaper apparently wanted to show its claws in response to the OSHA complaint and first suspended, then fired, the employee. In response, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed a federal court lawsuit of unlawful retaliation on the employee's behalf. The two first elements of a retaliation claim were undeniably established – protected conduct followed by an adverse action. Moreover, the timing of the firing so soon after the OSHA complaint suggested a causal connection.
Employers should keep this case in mind when considering whether to allow pets at work. What is a comforting best friend to some may be an annoying pest to others.