General Business

Ask the Experts: Service Animals, Weight & Comp Time

In the latest installment of New Jersey Business Magazine’s Ask the Experts column, HR professionals working with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association respond to executives’ inquiries on three interesting workplace issues.

Do we need a company policy related to service animals in the workplace? What if someone asks to bring one in?

You do not need to have a specific policy on service or support animals for your employees. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), private employers with 15 or more employees, must provide reasonable accommodation to known physical and mental limitations of qualified applicants and employees with disabilities unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. If a request comes up, rely on your disability accommodation process and engage in the interactive process.

First, determine if the employee has a covered disability as defined by the ADA. The best way to do this is to provide the employee with a medical inquiry form they can have completed by their doctor.

If the employee is not disabled as defined by the ADA, you are not required to allow them to bring an animal to work. But if they provide documentation supporting their need for a service or support animal, you should attempt to accommodate the employee.

Can we use comp time with our employees?

It depends. For nonexempt employees of a private employer, no. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t permit private employers to offer compensatory time (comp time) in lieu of overtime pay.

You could offer time off to your exempt employees as a reward for working more than their typical work week, which is considered a form of “flex-time,” but there are downsides to doing this. First, your exempt employees may grow accustomed to being able to take time off when they work extra hours, and this may not be a desirable or sustainable practice for your organization. Second, tracking the hours of your exempt employees so you can reward them may be extra work for you and them. Third, formalizing a flex-time system for exempt employees could create confusion about what they’re owed because it could create a perception that they’re compensated on an hourly basis.

Instead of creating a formal flex-time system for exempt employees, it may be simpler to find other ways to reward them for working extra hours when needed.

We have a hiring manager who doesn’t want to hire someone due to their weight. Can we reject their application for this reason?

While weight in and of itself is not a protected characteristic under federal law, making a hiring decision on this basis is inadvisable. Hiring decisions should be based on how well a candidate meets the qualifications outlined in the job description and applicable job posting. Disqualifying a candidate based on anything other than the job’s necessary qualifications increases the likelihood of a discrimination claim (in the case of weight, a disability discrimination claim is most likely).

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