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Handbook of Operating Procedures

Religious Accommodation

Policy Number: 112

Subject:

Religious accommodation, including observing religious holy days that are not part of the university’s holiday schedule

Scope:

Employees and trainees (students, residents, clinical fellows and postdoctoral research fellows)

Date Reviewed:
February 2019
Responsible Office:
Diversity & Equal Opportunity
Responsible Executive:
Associate Vice President of Diversity & Equal Opportunity

I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) is committed to providing an academic and work environment that is respectful of the religious beliefs of its trainees and employees in accordance with state and federal laws and regulations. Accommodations may be provided to trainees and employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with a university policy, procedure, or other academic or employment requirement.

II. DEFINITIONS

Religion or Creed: Includes traditional organized religions and others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Religious Accommodation: A reasonable adjustment to the work or academic environment that will allow an employee or trainee to practice or otherwise observe a sincerely held religious practice or belief without undue hardship on the university.

Undue Hardship: A proposed religious accommodation in a particular case that creates an undue hardship on the university where it poses more than de minimis[1] cost or burden. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other trainees or employees, or requires other employees or trainees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.

Religious Holy Day: As defined by Texas statute, a day observed by a religion whose places of worship are exempt from taxation under state law.

[1] "De minimis" means insignificant or negligible.

III. PROCEDURE

          A. Types of Religious Accommodations

The following types of religious accommodations are only intended to be examples of the different types of accommodations a trainee or employee might request. The examples are not intended to be a complete list of the types of religious accommodations. Any employee or trainee seeking an adjustment or modification to the work or academic environment may submit his/her request for religious accommodation even if the accommodation he/she is requesting is not specifically referenced herein.

                    1. Observing Religious Holy Days - Students

In accordance with Texas law, students who wish to observe a religious holy day that interferes with classes, examinations or completion of assignments must inform the instructor(s) and/or Diversity & Equal Opportunity (“EO”) in writing by submitting a request for religious accommodation for each class to be missed and/or of the planned absence(s) not later than the fifteenth calendar day of the semester. Any instructor or faculty member who receives a student’s request for religious accommodation must notify EO.  EO will engage in the interactive process with the student and instructor(s) and respond to the student within a reasonable period of time. Pursuant to Texas law, a request to observe a religious holy day may be denied if the student’s absence will interfere with clinical care.

Also, pursuant to Texas law, a student who follows these procedures and is excused from class for a religious holy day may not be penalized, but the instructor may appropriately respond if the student fails to satisfactorily complete a missed assignment or examination within a reasonable time after the absence.

                    2. Observing Religious Holy Days – Employees and Trainees (except students)

Employees or other trainees who wish to observe a religious holy day may do so by requesting accrued applicable paid leave in advance (refer to HOOP 28, Vacation), by working one "public business" holiday (refer to HOOP 27, Holidays) for each religious holy day to be taken, or by combining both methods. Alternatively, employees may request unpaid leave (refer to HOOP 31, Unpaid Leave Eligibility).

                              i. Faculty

In accordance with department policy, faculty members must give proper notice of their intent to observe religious holy days that will require absence from assigned responsibilities. "Proper notice" means that, before the first class day of the semester in which the religious holy day falls, the faculty member must provide to the department chair/equivalent a list of religious holy days that he or she will observe during the upcoming semester. This written list must be personally delivered to, acknowledged by, and dated by the chair/equivalent or must be sent to the chair/equivalent by certified mail, return receipt requested. The faculty member is responsible for finding a qualified substitute to teach any class(es) missed or for making other arrangements acceptable to the students affected by the absence(s) and to the department chair/equivalent. The faculty member is also responsible for finding a qualified substitute or making other arrangements acceptable to the department chair/equivalent for clinical and other assigned responsibilities.

                              ii. Non-faculty employees and trainees (except students)

In accordance with departmental/program policy, non-faculty employees and trainees (except students) must submit a request for religious accommodation to EO in advance to observe a religious holy day and must specify whether accrued applicable paid leave will be taken and/or a public business holiday worked due to the observance of the religious holy day. EO will engage in the interactive process with the employee or trainee and his or her supervisor/program director and respond within a reasonable period according to policy.

                    3. Religious Attire, Dress, Grooming and Other Requirements

Upon request, the university will make reasonable efforts to accommodate trainees’ and employees’ attire that is related to their sincerely held religious beliefs and conflict with any university requirement. Religious attire is not cultural or traditional dress; it is a requirement of religious observance. Religious attire may include, but it is not limited to:

  • Hairstyle or beard: Sikh hair and beard, Rastafarian dreadlocks, Jewish peyes;
  • Yarmulkes, turbans, headscarves (hijab), Rastafari headdress;
  • Crucifixes, Star of David or other items of ceremonial dress

Employees and trainees of The University of Texas Harris County Psychiatric Center (UTHCPC) should consult UTHCPC administration for information on UTHCPC dress code policy and guidelines.

                    4. Quiet Spaces and Prayer

Upon request, the university will evaluate and where reasonable and available, provide access to quiet, private spaces for meditation, religious study and/or prayer consistent with the requirements of this policy.

          B. Employees and Trainees Requesting Religious Accommodations

To request a religious accommodation, a trainee or an employee must submit a completed Request for Religious Accommodation Form to EO. Supervisors or faculty who receive a request for an accommodation from an employee or trainee must notify EO. Supervisors or faculty may not unilaterally grant accommodations.

                    1. Documentation of Sincerely Held Religious Belief

In some cases, documentation or information supporting the request may be required when there exists a bona fide doubt about the basis for the accommodation request.

                    2. Non-Receipt of Documentation

When requested, the trainee or student should submit supporting documentation or information to EO within 14 calendar days of the request. Failure to provide the required documentation and information timely may result in denial of the request for religious accommodation due to lack of necessary information.

                    3. Interactive Religious Accommodation Review

When EO receives the request and obtains the required documentation (if applicable), the EO Advisor will discuss the accommodation request as necessary with the trainee or employee, and with others (e.g., supervisor, faculty members) to evaluate and/or implement the accommodation. This is called the interactive process. As part of the interactive process, the EO Advisor and supervisor or faculty members may analyze the fundamental requirements of the applicable academic program and/or related technical standards, essential functions of an individual’s job, the duties of others in the department or job group, the requirements of the department or program, any impact of the accommodation, the duration of the accommodation request, and the availability of alternative accommodations. Religious accommodation requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

After engaging in the interactive process, the EO Advisor will make a determination of an appropriate religious accommodation and provide a written response to the parties. The Request for Religious Accommodation Form, the written response and other related documents will be maintained by EO.

          C. Appeal

                    1. Employees and Trainees (except students)

An employee or trainee (except students) who disagrees with the EO Advisor’s determination may appeal in writing to EO within seven (7) calendar days of receipt of the written response. Upon receipt of the written appeal, EO will convene a panel with representatives from the school or department and other relevant parties as determined by EO. The panel will review the Request for Religious Accommodation and the appeal and may ask the EO Advisor, the requesting individual, or other pertinent persons to provide additional information pertaining to the accommodation request. Within fourteen (14) calendar days of the panel convening, the panel will render a written decision to the requesting individual, the supervisor, and EO concerning the accommodation request. The decision of the panel is final.

                    2. Students

With respect to requests for observing religious holy days, if a student and the EO Advisor disagree on whether the absence is for the observance of a religious holy day; or whether the student has been given a reasonable time to complete any missed assignments or examinations; or if the student has not received a timely response from EO about a requested absence, either the student or EO may request a ruling from the Executive Vice President & Chief Academic Officer ("EVP/CAO"). The student and EO shall abide by the decision of the EVP/CAO, whom the President has designated to render such rulings.

For all other requests for religious accommodation, a student who disagrees with the EO Advisor’s determination may appeal in writing to EO within seven (7) calendar days of receipt of the written response. Upon receipt of the written appeal, EO will convene a panel with representatives from the school or program and other relevant parties as determined by EO.  The panel will review the Request for Religious Accommodation and the appeal and may ask the EO Advisor, the requesting individual, or other pertinent persons to provide additional information pertaining to the accommodation request. Within fourteen (14) calendar days of the panel convening, the panel will render a written decision to the requesting individual, the appropriate school or program, and EO concerning the accommodation request. The decision of the panel is final.

          D. Confidentiality

The university will protect the requesting trainee or employee’s privacy in evaluating and implementing the requested accommodation to the extent possible. EO will maintain records or information obtained during the accommodation request as confidential.

          E. Complaint 

Any individual who alleges discrimination on the basis of a religion may contact EO and assert a complaint pursuant to HOOP 183, Nondiscrimination, Anti-Harassment and Equal Opportunity. Any individual who alleges retaliation due to a request for an accommodation made pursuant to this policy may contact the Office of Institutional Compliance pursuant to HOOP 108, Protection from Retaliation. This does not include complaints regarding the decision of EO or an appeal regarding a decision made pursuant to this policy. Those decisions cannot be appealed except as provided in this policy.

IV. CONTACTS

    • Diversity & Equal Opportunity
    • 713-500-CALL (2255)
    • https://www.uth.edu/hr/department/equal-opportunity/index.htm