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What is Religious Accommodation?
"Religious accommodation" is the right to have one's religious practices accommodated by employers and providers of public services and facilities. This includes modification to, or time away from, work or study to practice the tenets of one's faith. The obligation to accommodate is mandatory, not discretionary. The University is under a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.
Although some dates vary, most have confirmed dates or can be estimated within a day or two. Make sure you take note of when your religious holidays will be occurring.
Exams & Deadlines
The exam schedule is released during Week 7 each term. Contact your professor or employer as soon as you know of a need for religious accommodation.
What is religious accommodation? Why do we accommodate?
"Religious accommodation" is the right to have one's religious practices accommodated by employers and providers of public services and facilities (such as universities). This includes modification to, or time away from, work or study to practice the tenets of one's faith. To request religious accommodation, you should submit a request to your professor or employer as early as possible (See below for more on steps on this). The obligation to accommodate is mandatory, not discretionary. The University is under a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.
Like all other post-secondary institutions, SFU falls under the jurisdiction of the BC Human Rights Code. Under the B.C. Human Rights Code, discrimination by employers and providers of public services and facilities (such as universities) on the basis of certain protected grounds, including religion, is prohibited. Subject to limited exceptions, you have a right to have your religious practices accommodated.
What can religious accommodation look like?
Accommodation could look different for each request.
If a student is asking to be absent on a recognized holy day, they are generally entitled to be absent, without penalty, and to perform the work at another time. Accommodation for this can involve (but are not limited to) the following:
- writing a make-up exam on another day;
- assigning the value of the exam to a later exam;
- requiring the student to submit another type of assignment.
If a student is asking for accommodation within classes or during exams, some examples of what religious accommodation could look like include:
- being allowed extra time;
- to exit briefly to engage in a prayer;
- to have food permitted if an exam is after sunset during Ramadan.
Conversely, there is no legal duty to accommodate religious social or optional faith based event. Some examples of this could include:
- an optional faith study at your place of worship;
- a friend's Christmas party;
- a food event hosted by your faith community that is not for religious observance.
What is meant by undue hardship?
In relation to religious accommodation, the law requires us to accommodate employees and students up to the point of undue hardship. What constitutes undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking the University would need to show that accommodating a religious practice for a student or an employee would create unduly onerous conditions. Factors that are considered are the cost (relative to the overall budget of the University), disruption of the workforce, and the effect on other students and employees.
Often, leaving too little time to make an accommodation becomes a significant factor in undue hardship. However, undue hardship is a high threshold to meet. There are limited circumstances in which the University would be justified in saying that undue hardship has been reached.
Is there a difference between days of religious and cultural significance?
Yes, there is a difference. Chinese New Year would be an example of a culturally-significant day that does not have the religious connotations it used to have, but is nevertheless an important 15-day celebration among people here and abroad. If a student or an employee were to request time away from work or study to celebrate Chinese New Year, the University may decide to grant time off, but there would be no legal requirement to do so.
1. Plan Ahead
You know your faith tradition and your school schedule the best. Check out the dates for religious events, classes, exams, and assignments early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Refer to important dates above.
- Double check dates once the exam schedule is released. If accommodation is needed, connect with your prof after your next class or in office hours.
2. Speak to your Professor
Communication early on will assist the accommodation process and gives your professor the needed time to make arrangements. Keep in mind that some profs may be working with multiple accommodations for students and this may impact the kind of accommodations available to you. Be open and specific about what support or accommodation you are asking for and be willing to work with the prof to find a solution.
- If a professor is unsure or has questions about religious accommodation you may refer them to The Multifaith Centre.
3. Follow up
Quickly follow up your conversation with a thank-you email. Include your name and ID number, the class code, relevant date(s), and what accommodation you and the prof spoke about and a recap of what you're hoping to have accommodated (ie: move exam, more time, break fast, etc).
1. Be Open
When a student approaches you for support, welcome their request with a positive demeanor. Be open to hearing their request and working to find a solution that works for you and the student. Ask questions if you need to and/or seek consultation from the Multifaith Centre or Human Rights Office.
2. Consider the Options
Accommodation can look like many different things; see the FAQ above for examples. Find a solution that works to balance the workload for you and the accommodation needs of the student.
Certain times of the year are busier for religious accommodation requests than others. Be prepared for requests during these times. A good example of this includes the month of Ramadan; a guide is included in the resources below.
For other religious holy days check out the Religious Calendar.