SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.
Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like him to answer? Submit it here.
A couple of my co-workers and I display religious items in our office at work. One of the supervisors in an adjacent department went out of her way to disparage my co-worker’s collection of prayer beads he has on display as not appropriate for the office environment. Is this really a thing? Can a company limit how we decorate our work areas? —Izzie
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Hearing such disparaging remarks about your co-worker’s prayer beads is understandably upsetting, especially if the supervisor is targeting a single religion. Regarding displaying religious items in the workplace, companies generally have discretion over what employees can display, and their policies may vary.
Employers may have policies allowing or restricting the display of religious items. These guidelines could differ for private workspaces versus common areas, and some companies might impose size limitations on such displays. It’s important to note that if a company restricts the exhibition of items from one religion, the same rule must apply to all faiths to avoid discrimination.
Disparaging an employee for their religious beliefs is never acceptable and could be considered workplace harassment. Ridiculing someone based on their faith goes against the principles of a respectful and inclusive work environment.
I encourage you to review your company’s employee handbook to see if specific policies address religious expression in the workplace. Additionally, consider reaching out to your HR department for guidance on the company’s rules and regulations regarding displaying religious items.
If you need clarification on your company’s policies or experience further issues, engaging in open communication with HR or other appropriate channels within your organization may be helpful. Understanding and respecting diverse beliefs is crucial for fostering a positive workplace culture.
I am on FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave for two to three months as I resolve a personal medical issue. Can I still submit FSA [flexible spending account] reimbursement for my medical expenses incurred while I’m away? —Markita
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I appreciate your proactive approach to managing your medical situation and seeking clarification on FSA reimbursement during FMLA leave. This is a matter many workers face and seek guidance and clarification on.
The ability to submit medical expenses for reimbursement through your FSA during FMLA leave depends on the specific circumstances of your benefits and contributions.
Here are a few scenarios to consider:
- Continued contributions and coverage. If you are still receiving pay from your company during FMLA leave, your contributions to the medical FSA should continue. In this case, your FSA coverage should also persist, and you can request reimbursement for medical expenses incurred while away.
- Employer contributions during unpaid FMLA leave. If your company is not paying you during FMLA leave but has agreed to make contributions to the medical FSA on your behalf, your coverage should still be active. Consequently, you can submit reimbursement requests for medical expenses.
- No contributions from you or your employer. If neither you nor your employer contribute to your FSA during FMLA leave, you may not be able to submit reimbursement requests for expenses incurred.
- Changes in FSA election. If you changed your FSA election to discontinue or terminate the FSA during your leave, you may be unable to submit reimbursement requests for medical expenses incurred during the FMLA period.
Remember that reimbursement is typically limited to the amount you elected at the beginning of the plan year. If you’ve already exhausted your FSA balance before your FMLA leave began, reimbursement requests may be rejected.
I recommend contacting your HR department for a precise understanding of your situation. They can provide specific details about your benefits, contributions and eligibility for FSA reimbursement during FMLA leave. Your HR team is there to assist you and ensure you have accurate information tailored to your individual circumstances. I wish you a full recovery during your FMLA leave.