University of Minnesota  FAQ

Reasonable Accommodations for Religious Beliefs and Practices

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Governing Policy

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Table of Contents

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  1. What is the University’s responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices?

    The University is required to provide reasonable accommodations for an individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, defined broadly.  Religious beliefs and practices include not only beliefs and practices that come from traditional, organized religions, but also other moral or ethical beliefs and practices that are similarly sincerely held. 

    Failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs and practices may constitute prohibited discrimination in violation of Administrative Policy: Discrimination.

  2. What is a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices?

    A reasonable accommodation is a modification to an environment, practice, or process that allows an individual to follow their religious beliefs or practices.

    In the academic context, a reasonable accommodation could include an excused absence, an extension on an assignment or the rescheduling of an exam due to the observation of a religious holiday.

    In the employment context, a reasonable accommodation could include time off for the observation of a religious holiday, a break or other work schedule modification for prayer, or the provision of facilities for washing in accordance with a religious practice.

  3. What is the process for requesting and receiving a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices?

    A reasonable accommodation is identified and implemented through an interactive process between the University and the individual seeking an accommodation.  An interactive process consists of communication between the individual seeking accommodation and the responsible administrator (e.g., instructor or supervisor).  The process is intended to result in identification and implementation of a reasonable accommodation for an individual’s religious beliefs or practices that does not create an undue hardship for the University.  The process is generally as follows:

    1. First, an individual seeking a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices must request an accommodation from the appropriate responsible administrator (e.g., instructor or supervisor). An individual seeking an accommodation should:
      • request the accommodation in advance, if possible, and/or as soon as reasonably practicable;
      • identify the request as related to religious beliefs or practices;
      • identify the work or academic expectation that needs to be modified due to their religious beliefs or practices, and that gives rise to the request for accommodation.
    2. In response to the request for accommodation, the responsible administrator must either:
      • agree to and implement the requested accommodation; or
      • engage in an interactive process with the individual seeking an accommodation to determine whether there is another reasonable accommodation.   

      The responsible administrator and individual seeking an accommodation are responsible for actively participating in the interactive process in good faith.

    3. If the responsible administrator believes that they cannot grant an accommodation request, the responsible administrator should consult with their Human Resources representative, the campus Equal Opportunity office, and/or another appropriate resource before denying the accommodation request. 

      Denial of an accommodation request may be appropriate when an interactive process fails to result in identification of an accommodation that is reasonable and does not create an undue hardship.

      In addition, the responsible administrator should contact the Office of the General Counsel if the individual requesting accommodation is represented by legal counsel.

  4. Is the University required to provide the specific accommodation that the individual seeking accommodations requests?

    Generally, no.  The University is not required to provide the specific accommodation requested by the individual seeking an accommodation.  However, if the specific accommodation requested is reasonable and does not cause an undue hardship, a responsible administrator should provide it unless there is a legitimate reason for suggesting an alternative accommodation. 

  5. When is an accommodation not available because it is unreasonable or creates an undue hardship?

    The University does not have to provide an accommodation that is unreasonable. An accommodation for religious beliefs or practices may be unreasonable when it:

    • compromises essential requirements of a course, program, job or activity; or
    • is requested retroactively or in an untimely manner.

    The University does not have to provide an accommodation that causes an undue hardship. An accommodation for religious beliefs or practices may cause an undue hardship when it:

    • causes an undue administrative or financial hardship for the institution;
    • jeopardizes the safety of the individual who requires the accommodation or others;
    • infringes on the rights of other employees, including those rights set forth in a collective bargaining agreement or other policy or law; or
    • imposes an unreasonable burden on other employees or students.

    In determining whether an accommodation would create an undue hardship, a responsible administrator should rely on objective information, not on anticipated or hypothetical hardships to the University that could result from providing the accommodation.  In addition, it is not appropriate to determine that an accommodation would create an undue hardship because others might request the same or similar accommodation in the future or because other employees or students think or might think it is unfair.

  6. When is an accommodation unreasonable because it compromises the essential requirements of a course, program, job, or activity?

    An accommodation that would compromise the essential requirements of a University course, program, job, or activity or would fundamentally alter a course, program or activity is not reasonable, and the University is not required to provide such an accommodation.

    In the academic context, essential requirements are the learning outcomes (including skills, knowledge, and attitudes) that all students must demonstrate and those that are required to uphold the academic and technical standards and integrity of courses and academic programs.  For example, a reasonable accommodation may be to provide a student a 15-minute prayer break during a four-hour class, but it may not be a reasonable accommodation to allow the student to miss a class every week if other students are not similarly allowed to miss class.

    In the employment context, the essential requirements are the fundamental duties of a position that a person holding the position absolutely must be able to do. 

  7. When is an accommodation unreasonable because it is requested retroactively or in an untimely manner?

    An accommodation that is requested retroactively or in an untimely manner might not be reasonable, depending on the circumstances.  Students and employees should request an accommodation in advance or as soon as reasonably practicable.  In addition:

    At times, an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices might not know the exact date on which the accommodation will be needed.  In such cases, the individual should provide advance notification to the responsible administrator of general time frame in which the accommodation will be needed.

    In order to encourage timely requests for accommodation, responsible administrators should remind students and employees regularly about the process for requesting religious accommodation (e.g., on a syllabus or in communication at the beginning of an academic year).

  8. When does an accommodation create an undue hardship because it infringes on the rights of others?

    A request that an individual be able to work with (or not work with) someone because of that person’s identity (e.g., gender or religion) infringes on the rights of others and is therefore not a reasonable religious accommodation. 

    A request that may cause an individual to lose rights under a collective bargaining agreement or another University policy (e.g., a policy relating to seniority rights, a policy prohibiting discrimination or harassment) infringes on the rights of others and is therefore not a reasonable accommodation.

    A request that unreasonably compromises safety practices infringes on the rights of others and is therefore not a reasonable accommodation. 

    Co-workers’ or classmates’ general complaints or resentment because of another employee’s or student’s reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices does not in itself mean that the accommodation infringes on the rights of others or that it constitutes an undue hardship.

  9. Can an individual miss class, a scheduled exam, or work as a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs and practices?

    A class absence, missing a scheduled exam, or an absence from work may constitute a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs or practices, depending on the circumstances. 

    In addition, an individual requesting an accommodation and a responsible administrator should consult relevant policies, including:

    For students:

    Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences: Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, Rochester;

    Excused Absences (Duluth).

    Mandatory Attendance at First Class Session and Consequences for Absences (Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, Rochester);

    Teaching and Learning: Student Responsibilities (Twin Cities, Morris, Rochester);

    For employees:

    Employee Absences for Religious Holidays Administrative Policy;

    Applicable collective bargaining agreement.

  10. Is an employee taking time off as a reasonable religious accommodation paid for the absence?

    Faculty, academic professional and administrative (P&A), civil service, graduate assistant, and student workers must take planned absences (including for religious observances) as either paid vacation leave, if available; as time off without pay; or with equivalent time worked at a time and manner agreed upon by the employee and the responsible administrator/supervisor.  See Administrative Policy: Employee Absences for Religious Holidays.

    Employees whose rights are governed by collective bargaining agreements should consult their applicable collective bargaining agreement.

  11. What kinds of questions should a responsible administrator ask an individual seeking accommodation for religious beliefs or practices?

    A responsible administrator should be thoughtful and respectful during the interactive process.  Discussion should focus on the possible accommodations that would reasonably allow the individual to follow their religious beliefs or practices, and not on whether the individual’s religious beliefs or practices are genuine.

    Depending on the circumstances, the following questions might be appropriate as part of an interactive process aimed at determining a reasonable accommodation:

    • What is the rule, expectation, or assignment that your request for accommodation is related to?
    • How do your religious beliefs or practices conflict with that rule or expectation?
    • Tell me about the time or space that you need for this accommodation?
    • What accommodations do you think might work?
  12. Should a responsible administrator ask for verification of the veracity or sincerity of an individual’s religious beliefs or practices?

    No. A responsible administrator should generally refrain from asking for proof or explanation about an individual’s religious beliefs or practices.  In rare circumstances where there is a bona fide doubt that the belief or practice at issue is religious or sincerely held by the individual, a responsible administrator may ask clarifying questions or request verification from the individual seeking accommodation.  In such cases, a responsible administrator should first consult with their Human Resources representative, the campus Equal Opportunity office, and/or other appropriate offices.

  13. Should a responsible administrator ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed when an individual has not asked for one?

    A responsible administrator should generally refrain from making assumptions about an individual’s religious beliefs, practices, or accommodation needs based on the individual’s appearance, clothing, national origin or other personal characteristic or based on an individual’s known religious beliefs or practices.  Instead, a responsible administrator may provide reminders, on a regular basis, about the ability for all students or employees to request a religious accommodation and the process for making such requests.

  14. What else can I do to support the University’s policy for accommodating religious beliefs and practices?
    • Do not reject a request for accommodation for religious beliefs or practices while making the same accommodation for another individual for a non-religious reason, except for in exceptional circumstances and where there are legitimate reasons for the difference in approach.
    • Do not retaliate against an individual for requesting an accommodation for religious beliefs or practices. Retaliation is prohibited. 
    • Consult the University’s religious holidays calendar before scheduling meetings, exams, or other events to minimize the need for an individual to request an accommodation. See: Holidays and Religious Observances at the Office of Equity and Diversity website.
    • Share information about how to request a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs and practices, e.g., on a syllabus or in communications to employees.
  15. What can an individual do if they believe they have not been provided with reasonable accommodation for their religious practice or belief?

    If, after actively engaging in the interactive process, or after attempting in good faith to engage in the interactive process, the individual seeking an accommodation believes that they are not being provided with a reasonable accommodation, that individual can:

    • notify the supervisor of the individual who is failing to provide reasonable accommodation; and/or
    • contact the campus Equal Opportunity office to report a potential violation of the University’s Discrimination
  16. What can a responsible administrator do when they are unable to reach an agreement with an individual requesting a religious accommodation?

    A responsible administrator should contact Human Resources representative and/or the campus Equal Opportunity office.