Ethics generally isn't a thrilling topic. It isn't exactly a fun fact that earlier this month was Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week (Nov 3-9). While the subject may seem a little dry, when it comes to business ethics in the pet care industry and how they impact the care of your fur babies, it suddenly becomes deeply important.
S'wooft is proud to be a pet care company of strong business ethics. We take great pride in serving the community that we live and work in, we take excellent care of the pets entrusted to us, we work with our pet owners to create long term relationships, and we clean up any pet messes along the way. In general, we strive to operate according to the highest standards of business ethics and employment compliance.
When owner Sarah Homan opened S'wooft in 2015, her business plan included a lengthy section on business ethics and the values of S'wooft as company. She knew from past experience as an employee on various teams that the success of an organization is directly tied to the team. For this reason, her core philosophy was that happy staff will make for happy/healthy pets, which will make for happy clients, and thus a happy/healthy company. From our inception, S'wooft has focused on doing right by our staff, which includes following employment/wage laws. Early on she was surprised to find that the industry as a whole was undergoing a seismic shift with regard to classification of dog walkers, and she wanted to make sure to be on the right side of history as an early adopter of wage/employment compliance as this industry shift took place.
Team S'wooft at the PAWS 5k (2019)
Since the start of dog walking as an industry, dog walkers have generally been part-timers, considered 1099 contractors (if paid "on the books" at all). In recent years, Illinois specifically has shifted more in favor of workers in a way that has made it clear to pet care business owners that dog walkers are, in fact, employees (when employed by a company that trains them, manages their schedule and duties, etc.). Many have either been unaware or have blatantly disregarded this change, primarily because the W2 employee classification brings with it a significant business cost. Categorizing dog walkers as employees means paying taxes, unemployment insurance, paid sick time, workers compensation, and the other benefits that go along with being an employee rather than a contractor. This amounts to roughly a 30% cost in addition to any normal payroll costs as compared to paying as contractors. S'wooft found the cost to be worthwhile because it provides the benefits and protections our staff deserves, and necessary because #employmentlaw. We are exceptionally proud of our team and we do everything in our power to provide the necessary protections and support so they feel confident in the work we do every day.
Besides it just being the right thing for us to do from an ethics perspective, we wanted to highlight a few major reasons it's important to work with a compliant, reliable organization, whether as a client or an employee:
One of the keys to the success of S’wooft has always been the emphasis that we place on training our employees. Our clients love that we go the extra mile before we even send a dog walker or sitter into their home. S’wooft employees (who have already been background and 3x reference checked) begin their journey with us by taking our rigorous training program. This includes training material (live and online) on animal handling, understanding animal body language, best practices for dealing with difficult pet personalities, and the list goes on. They are also certified in Pet First Aid/CPR within the first months of working with us, which provides them with a vast knowledge of common health problems among various species and the best way to handle emergency situations. Our employees are equipped with an educational advantage that sets them apart from other dog walkers. Furthermore, it allows all parties, even the pets, to feel more confident as they begin their relationship with their new walking buddy.
Safety first, right? This is a big part of why we train our employees so thoroughly. We understand that trusting a relative stranger with a member of your family that unconditionally loves you can be scary, and we want to do everything to make sure everyone is safe.
Often overlooked, however, is the safety of the employee. Naturally, we value the safety of the animals in our care, but where we go the extra mile is that we truly care for and take an active interest in the safety of our animal care specialists. One of the most tangible ways that we do this is to provide workers comp and liability insurance to our employees. We also have a comprehensive Employee Handbook that covers best practices "in the field" with an emphasis on safety for both them and the pets in their care. Everyone who works at S’wooft (past and present) is also part of our community, and we make sure they know they are respected and valued. We look after our family so that they can look after yours.
Hiring a company that pays their workers as contractors presents some risk to pet owners. Contractors should be required to provide proof of insurance before providing services, and if a walker is injured on the job, they could file a claim against the customer. S'wooft takes care of all that with our insurance, bonding, and workers comp policies.
Team member Kris (with S'wooft since March 2018)
It’s often not something people bring up, but it’s one of the most important things to address. At the end of the day, we are a company who provides a service and it is important to acknowledge the compensation and guarantees that we provide our employees. All of our Dog Walkers and management at S’wooft are W2 employees with a designated workload. This is important, because as dog walkers and pet sitters, there is often no financial or workload security. We also provide paid sick leave, as well as paid time off, for all of our employees. While we may charge more than some competitors who haven't yet come on board the wage/employment compliance train, the small difference in costs goes toward staff compensation and support, and we're confident that we deliver a superior service as a result of our business practices.
While there is no one specifically governing body for pet care, nationally or locally in Chicago, we wanted to belong to an organization that held its members accountable for the work that they do and the ethics that they apply to their business model. This was when we became part of the Pet Industry Coalition. This group was formed in recent years to regulate the dog walking industry locally, which allowed for our employees’ best interests to be looked out for as well as ensuring the best possible care for the pets entrusted to us.
While other pet care companies may undercut or do things “off the books,” we and other members of the Pet Industry Coalition want to be change makers, for the betterment of our staff and the pet care industry as a whole. We work hard to pay a living wage to our employees and provide the best care to our family of pets. It can make it difficult to compete in an unregulated industry, but it's important to us to grow businesses on a firm foundation.
We invest in our employees, and every day, we see that investment paid forward into our community. S’wooft provides pet care we can all be proud of. In this time of Thanksgiving, we thank all of our loyal clients, community, and supporters. This coming March will mark our 5th anniversary in business, and we appreciate your support for our vision and mission!
If you would like to become part of our pet care team, apply here. We can’t wait to hear from you!