Policy on Religious Accommodations
Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, including failing to accommodate students’ and employees’ religious practices. In this context, an “accommodation” is an exception to a rule, policy or practice needed by the student or employee to follow their religious beliefs or practices, such as not working or attending class on a religious holiday. CWRU, through the Office for Equity, will grant requests for reasonable accommodation of religious practices unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship (more than a minimal burden on operation of the department, office, faculty member).
Information About Requests for Religious Accommodation
CWRU values diversity, including diversity of religious practice which contributes to the campus’ rich cultural and ethnic landscape. CWRU respects the religious practices of members of our community and supports and accommodates students, faculty and staff of all faiths so that religious observance does not negatively affect academic or work success. CWRU provides reasonable accommodations for religious practices of students, faculty and staff.
The Office for Equity has developed guidelines to help members of the CWRU community understand expectations and obligations regarding the accommodation of religious practices.
- Some examples of reasonable religious accommodations include: schedule changes, excused absences, minor revisions to job duties or course expectations, exceptions to syllabi policies and classroom practices, flexible scheduling, changes to housing or meal plans, and exceptions to workplace policies such as dress or grooming requirements.
- An accommodation is not reasonable if it: creates a direct threat to the health or safety of others or the person seeking the accommodation; disrupts instruction, academic integrity, learning or university operations; creates an undue hardship on CWRU; or requires a substantial alteration in the manner in which instruction is delivered, students are assessed, or services are provided.
There are a number of areas where a need for a accommodation may arise from the intersection between the practice of religion by a student, faculty and/or staff member and course or job requirements. These areas may include but are not limited to the following:
- prayer – time of day, need for quiet or private space
- dietary requirements – alternative food
- fasting – reschedule exams set to occur during period of fasting, permit food or meal breaks from fasting requirement
- religious attire, head covering, facial hair
- ablution (e.g. washing of hands & feet)
- participation in daily activities and curriculum
- observation of major religious holy days and celebrations that conflict with working hours, class schedule or exams
Faculty and staff should request religious accommodations from their immediate supervisors, including departmental chairs, associate deans or program directors, so long as they feel comfortable making the request. If not, requests for accommodation may be made directly to the Office for Equity by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Faculty should request accommodations that may involve an absence from class before the semester begins. Staff should request accommodations involving an absence from work in a timely manner that will permit the supervisor to arrange coverage for the staff member’s absence.
- Faculty and staff dissatisfied with the outcome of discussions with their supervisor may contact the Office for Equity at email@example.com.
- If necessary, Human Resources and/or the Office for Equity may provide input, answer questions, and assist with identifying an appropriate religious accommodation.
- Accommodations for faculty are not reasonable if they diminish academic standards or negatively impact instructional hours.
Students should request religious accommodations directly from their professors or other person in a position grant the accommodation, so long as the student feels comfortable doing so.
- Students should provide professors with reasonable advance notice of their need for a religious accommodation. Ideally, students will consult their professors within two weeks of the beginning of the semester about religious accommodations required during the semester.
- Religious accommodations should be worked out in advance with the professor. Professors must approve reasonable accommodations for students’ religious practices. The Office for Equity is available to provide input and answer questions.
- Students dissatisfied with the outcome of discussions with the instructor should contact the Office for Equity, as should students who do not feel comfortable requesting the accommodation from their professor.
- Religious accommodations must be reasonable. What is reasonable for a particular student will depend on the type of class (e.g. lab, clinical or field work experience), the duration of the course (8, 10 or 16 weeks), the nature of the accommodation being requested (e.g. a single day absence vs. a three-week absence) and other relevant factors.
- Religious accommodations should not have an unreasonable impact on faculty workload or student instructional hours.
- Students should take their religious calendar into account when making their course schedules, especially in cases of classes that meet only a few times in the semester or for a short period of time.
- The failure of a student to provide reasonable advance notice of the need for a religious accommodation is not a basis for a professor to refuse to provide the accommodation but might impact what accommodation is reasonable under the circumstances.
Adjustments to course policies that may be reasonable as a religious accommodation include alternations of:
- Attendance policies, accommodate students who must be absent to observe a religious holiday. Common questions involve whether an absence for religious observance may be counted as an excused or no-fault absence. So that religious practice does not disadvantage one student compared to another, an absence for religious observance may not reduce the number of class days available to a student through a no-fault absence policy.
- Allowing a student to designate a note-taker for a day on which a religious holiday requires the student to miss class.
- Assignment due dates, when they fall on or immediately adjacent to a religious holiday or the student’s Sabbath. In consultations with the professor, alternate due dates or other arrangements may require students to complete work slightly earlier or allow them to finish slightly later than other students in the class.
- Exam dates, adjusted to accommodate students with religious observance requirements that conflict with dates on the syllabus and the academic calendar.
- Permitting a student to bring and consume food and/or drink in class during periods of fasting at particular times of the day or evening.
How to Request a Religious Accommodation
To request a Religious accommodation, students, faculty and staff should submit the Religious Accommodation Form, along with the following additional documentation, if available, to the Office for Equity:
- Job description or a description of your academic program, specifically identifying any program requirements which require accommodation.
- The Religious Accommodation Form can be completed HERE or send the Office for Equity an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Equity will endeavor to handle each request as expeditiously as possible.
Please note that accommodations are not effective until the interactive process, described above, is complete and you receive a letter via email stating that your request for an accommodation has been granted. Completing the above form and submitting the requisite information does not guarantee your specifically requested accommodation and does not immediately put an accommodation into place.
Religious Accommodation FAQ’s
- How do I request a Religious Accommodation?
A student, faculty member or staff member can request a religious accommodation by speaking to their supervisor or instructor, if comfortable doing so, or contacting the Office for Equity by email or phone to make the request, or completing this form. The contact information for the Office for Equity is: Phone: 216.368.3066; Email: email@example.com; and https://case.edu/equity/.
The Office for Equity is in the Nursing Research Building (behind BRB), Suite 1180, which is located at 2120 Cornell Road, Cleveland, OH 44106.
The person seeking the accommodation should, if possible, make their professor, supervisor or the Office for Equity aware of the need for a religious accommodation well in advance of the need for the accommodation. For example, a sudden request for immediate time off or to reschedule an exam may not be reasonable, but the same request made two weeks in advance may have been reasonable when there would have been time to arrange coverage for the employee’s absence or for a student to take an exam a day early to address concerns about academic integrity.
- How are requests for a religious accommodation considered by CWRU?
Once a request is made, CWRU will explore reasonable accommodations to address the conflict between the person’s religious belief or practice and their work or course. The person requesting the accommodation must cooperate with CWRU attempts to determine an appropriate accommodation by providing information and maintaining flexibility. When more than one accommodation is possible, CWRU may select an accommodation that enables the person to practice their faith, but CWRU is not required to select the accommodation most desired by the person seeking it.
- Do religious accommodations give some students an advantage over the rest of the class?
No. Religious accommodations give students of all faiths an equal opportunity to succeed academically by ensuring that students’ grades are not lowered because of religious observance.
- What if faculty suspect that a student’s profession of faith and need for an accommodation is insincere?
State and federal law requiring religious accommodation extends not only to traditional, organized religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, and atheism, but also encompasses sincerely held religious beliefs that are “new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others.” See EEOC Compliance Manual § 12-I(A)(1).
A person’s beliefs must be accommodated if they are sincere, meaningful, and occupy a place in the person’s life similar to that filled by organized religion. A belief in God is not required for a person to have a sincere religious belief which requires accommodation.
Practically speaking, it is difficult to establish that a person’s professed faith-based need for an accommodation is insincere. Concerns that a person is “working the system” or seeking an unfair advantage are addressed through the requirement that an accommodation must be reasonable, rather than by disputing the sincerity of the requestor’s faith. Faculty or supervisors concerned about the sincerity of the belief and need for an accommodation should contact the Office for Equity for guidance and assistance.
- What should students or employees do if they are dissatisfied with the accommodation offered to them by their instructor or supervisor, or if the requested accommodation is denied?
Contact the Office for Equity for guidance, input and assistance with identifying a reasonable religious accommodation under the circumstances. The Office for Equity is located in the Nursing Research Building, Suite 1180, 2120 Cornell Road in Cleveland, OH 44106. The contact information is: Phone: 216.368.3066, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , https://case.edu/equity/.