Requests for an Accommodation Based on a Disability, Religious Practice, or Pregnancy-Related Condition
UCF is committed to fostering a culture of innovation, inclusion, and collaboration and we know that great ideas take many minds with diverse life experiences to be a success¹. To support this commitment and to comply with applicable laws, UCF has regulations, policies, and procedures in place to assist applicants, employees, and students in need of a reasonable accommodation based on a disability, religious practice, or pregnancy-related conditions (i.e., pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, lactation; medical conditions related these circumstances; and/or recovery from these circumstances). Supervisors, hiring managers, and faculty members need to be aware of these regulations, policies, and procedures that set expectations for responding when an applicant, employee, or student voices a need for an accommodation (even if they don’t use the word “accommodation”).
While inclusion is part of the UCF fabric, it is important that we all understand that reasonable accommodations based on a disability, religious practice, or pregnancy-related condition are required by law unless they pose an undue hardship or fundamental alteration of a course or program. UCF’s regulations, policies, and procedures capture this requirement and provide an avenue for assessing and facilitating requests of this nature. Specifically, UCF Regulation 3.001, UCF Regulation 5.020, and UCF Policy 2-004 prohibit unlawful discrimination and harassment in any of UCF’s education or employment programs and activities, which includes failing to provide a reasonable accommodation based on religion, disability, and/or pregnancy-related condition. The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) is responsible for the oversight of the university’s compliance with these laws and the OIE director serves as the university’s ADA Coordinator. OIE assesses disability related accommodation requests for employees and the Office of Student Accessibility Services (SAS) assesses disability related accommodation requests for students.
What are Reasonable Accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job or the work or learning environment so that an applicant, employee, or student can participate in the work and learning environments and programs. Examples of reasonable accommodations based on a disability or pregnancy-related condition include but are not limited to making existing facilities accessible, job restructuring, part-time or modified work or class schedules, acquiring or modifying equipment, altering the format of a job assessment exam, and providing qualified readers or interpreters. Examples of reasonable accommodations based on religion include but are not limited to scheduling changes (i.e., arrivals, departures, floating/optional holidays, flexible work breaks and any other scheduling changes), voluntary shift substitutions and/or swaps, job reassignments such as changes of position tasks and lateral transfers, and modifications to workplace practices, policies and procedures. A religious accommodation also may involve designating an unused or private location in the workplace where a religious observance or practice can occur, as well as modifying policies related to dress or grooming practices (i.e., allowing the wearing of particular head coverings or other religious dress, or wearing certain hairstyles or facial hair).
What Do Supervisors, Hiring Managers, and Faculty Members Need to Know to Respond to Accommodation Requests?
First, hiring managers, supervisors, and faculty members should familiarize themselves with the university’s nondiscrimination regulations and policies. These documents are the foundation of the university’s commitment to inclusivity. Next, it’s critical to understand what a request for accommodation might look like. While some students and employees are specific in their request for accommodation, others may raise a question or concern without specifically asking for an accommodation. An example of a request for a religious accommodation may be in the form of an employee requesting leave time for religious observations or specifically timed breaks for prayer or contemplation. With respect to disability or a pregnancy-related condition, an employee or student may advise a supervisor or faculty member that they will need time off due to medical reasons, adjustments to their workspace or learning space, adjustments to their schedule due to pain or discomfort, or an employee may state that they cannot do a specific job function anymore. While these statements are not automatically indicative that an employee or student has a disability or pregnancy-related condition, they do indicate that there may be a medical situation that is impacting their job or education. You may also learn that an employee may be experiencing a medical condition via word of mouth, or you may have direct knowledge that an employee has an upcoming surgery or was involved in an accident. The individual does not have to put their request in writing. Any way you learn of a medical concern or religious practice that may impact a job function or educational requirements, referring the applicant, employee, or student to OIE or SAS, respectively, is appropriate.
If an applicant or current employee indicates a concern related to accommodations or requests a reasonable accommodation for disability, religion, or pregnancy-related condition, hiring managers, supervisors, and faculty members should contact OIE at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance and before denying the request. An OIE team member will then contact the individual requesting accommodations to obtain additional information, and discuss the requested accommodations with the hiring manager, supervisor, or faculty member to seek additional information that will help OIE make a reasoned determination as to what accommodations are most appropriate to a specific situation. This is known as the interactive process—a discussion about an applicant’s or employee’s request for accommodation in conjunction with the applicant/employee, health care providers, and supervisors. A similar process occurs at SAS when a student requests an accommodation based on a disability. If a supervisor or faculty member has concerns about an accommodation or a request for an accommodation, they should contact OIE, or SAS (student request), to discuss the situation rather than engaging with the employee or student.
Additionally, hiring managers, supervisors, and faculty members should not seek to obtain any medical documentation for disability or pregnancy-related concerns or religious documentation for religious accommodation requests. Such documentation can be provided to OIE or SAS during the interactive process where the medical conditions will remain confidential. Failure to follow these protocols could constitute unlawful discrimination, so it is best to consult with OIE or SAS who can assist with navigating these requests.
How Do Individuals Request an Accommodation?
If an applicant or an employee needs an accommodation or has questions about the accommodation process, they should contact OIE. More information, including accommodation request forms, for accommodations based on religion, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability, can be found on OIE’s website. Students who are in need of an accommodation based on disability can find more information on SAS’s website related to accommodations for students.
What about Retaliation?
Requesting an accommodation based on disability, religion, or pregnancy-related condition is considered a protected activity, which means that pursuant to federal and state law, as well as university regulation and policy, the individual requesting the accommodation cannot be subjected to retaliation for having made such a request, regardless of whether the request is ultimately granted.
UCF is committed to “Unleashing Potential” by creating an inclusive environment that supports the university’s strategic goal of being a best place to learn and work. Reasonable accommodations are one vehicle to aid in this initiative. We can all take steps to ensure that UCF is accessible, not solely through accommodations, but through proactive actions such as using disability-focused channels to recruit employees, ensuring employees are aware of their rights and options with respect to nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodations, building accessible websites and documents, and by educating ourselves about working with employees with disabilities, diverse religious practices, and pregnancy-related life experiences. Together, we can ensure that UCF continues to be an inclusive community and the best place to learn and work.