Religious Equality: Policy Statement and Implementation Note for Staff and Students

Contents

Section A – Policy

Section B – Implementation

B1 – General

B2 – Staff

B3 – Students

Section A - Policy

1 The University values the principles of equal treatment and respect for individual differences and is committed to understanding, respecting and using diversity. It is determined to ensure that:

Diversity is critical to the achievement of the University’s strategic aims and long-term success.

2 In December 2003 the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations came into force. They apply to all staff and students in higher education and make it unlawful for anyone in the University to discriminate against directly or indirectly, harass or victimise any member of staff or any student because of their religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief (For definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief see paragraph 8 below). Any such discrimination, harassment or victimisation carried out by any student or members of staff may result in disciplinary action under the Disciplinary Regulations for Students or the Disciplinary Procedure for all Employees.

3 The University welcomes the variety of religious beliefs and moral and philosophical positions held by students and staff as an enrichment of University life.

4 The University seeks to ensure that members of any religion or none are treated with dignity and fairness and feel able to participate in the life of the University.

5 The University is an academic institution committed to the values of open and rational debate. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is absolute. However, any manifestation of beliefs has to take account of the rights and reasonable sensitivities of others. What is appropriate will depend on the circumstances but any attempt to bully or coerce others to comply with a particular belief system, for example through threats or offensive remarks, may result in disciplinary action.

6 The University is a secular institution in the sense that it does not require or promote religious belief in general or any religious belief in particular and its governance does not include any statutory role for organised religion. However, in its desire to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students and staff, including those with religious beliefs, it supports a Multifaith Chaplaincy, and permits religious worship and the acknowledgement of religious occasions on its premises where this does not interfere with the academic purposes of the University.

7 Where staff or students have religious needs which they cannot fulfil because of University customs or practices they are encouraged to make those known to line managers, tutors or other appropriate members of academic or support staff, clearly stating that the needs are connected to their religious belief. The University undertakes to consider such representations seriously and to meet requests where it is practical, proportionate and reasonable to do so. Equally staff and students who make requests are encouraged to do so in the spirit of flexibility and compromise.

8 For the purposes of this Policy the following definitions apply:

Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated less favourably than another on grounds of religion or belief

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice, which is applied generally, puts persons of a particular religion or belief at a disadvantage and cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Harassment occurs where a person is submitted to unwanted conduct on grounds of religion or belief with the purpose or effect of violating his or her dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him or her.

Victimisation occurs where a person receives less favourable treatment than others by reason of the fact that he or she has brought (or given evidence in) proceedings, made an allegation or otherwise done anything under or by reference to these Regulations.

Religion or belief. There is no detailed definition of religion or belief within the Regulations. It is defined as including ‘any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief’. Where the word religion or religious belief is used within this document it should be taken to include ‘any religion or religious belief or similar philosophical belief’.

Implementation

B1- General (These paragraphs relate to both staff and students. Specific guidance re staff and students follow below)

1 Dress

The wearing of religious dress or symbols is permitted and should not be banned or discouraged. The only exceptions to this are:

2 Dietary requirements

The University undertakes to assess periodically the demand for food that meets religious dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal). The University aims to meet this demand but, in deciding what to provide through its catering services, it must also take into account cost and practicality.  Any student or member of staff who has a request of this nature should contact the Head of Catering in the Facilities Directorate.

3 Facilities for Religious Observance

The University recognises that some students or staff may be required by their religious faith to pray or worship during the working day and that it may not be practical for them to access external facilities. The University aims to accommodate these needs by providing a suitable space but, in providing facilities, the University has to judge what is reasonable and practical given the demand, the cost and its business requirements. Any student or member of staff who has a request of this nature should contact the Head of Facilities Planning in the Facilities Directorate. Also information about religious groups and facilities in the city may be obtained from the Multifaith Chaplaincy (see paragraphs 4 and 6 below)

4 Multifaith Chaplaincy

The University provides a Multifaith Chaplaincy which serves students and staff of all faiths and none through its network of Faith Advisors. In addition, various student religious societies are constituted under the auspices of the Students'Union.

5 Raising Needs and Concerns

5.1 Staff or students who wish the University to take action to meet their religious needs should inform their line manager or tutor, or other member of academic or support staff, as soon as possible making it clear what the issue is and that it relates to religious belief.

5.2 Any member of staff or any student who feels they are not being treated fairly in accordance with this policy should try to resolve the matter by discussion and, if that fails, use the staff grievance or Student complaints policy and procedure [93kb PDF].

5.3 Any member of staff or any student who feels that they are being harassed because of their religious belief should follow the processes outlined in the University's staff and student anti-harassment procedures.

6 Information Sources

6.1 Key religious dates together with descriptions of the major religions are available on the BBC website

Another recommended site is at the University of Derby

6.2 A copy of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations is available from HMSO. Further information may be obtained from the Equality Challenge Unit.

6.3 Advice about the interpretation of this Policy and guidance may be obtained from your Human Resources Adviser for employment matters, the University Secretariat for student matters and the Multifaith Chaplaincy for religious information (Ian Maher, 4577, email: chaplaincy@shu.ac.uk)

7 Monitoring and Reporting

There will be an annual report on the policy and its implementation coordinated by the University Secretariat. Schools and departments are expected to keep a record of issues which arise related to this policy, in particular the provision of services such as under B1(2 and 3) above.

Implementation


B2 - Staff Issues

1 Recruitment and Selection

1.1 The University’s recruitment and selection procedures are designed to ensure equality of opportunity for all applicants and to recruit the best person for each vacancy.

1.2 When preparing the person specification for a post managers should take care not to include requirements which may discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief. There may be exceptional circumstances where such a requirement could be justified as being essential for the post. If this may be the case managers should seek advice from their Human Resources adviser. When preparing the person specification and conducting interviews, managers should make the essential requirements of the post clear so that candidates can consider if there is any conflict with their religion or belief.

1.3 In all recruitment and selection arrangements, managers should be sensitive to the religious or belief needs of applicants. For example, social gatherings should not disadvantage anyone for whom alcohol is prohibited, and dietary needs should be identified and provided for.

2 Leave

Paid Leave

2.1 Nobody will be granted additional paid leave for religious purposes. All paid leave for religious purposes must come from the standard contractual entitlement.

2.2 Where it is reasonable and practical, a request to use leave entitlement at a particular time for religious purposes should be granted. Whilst such requests should not be refused unreasonably, managers also have a duty to ensure the effective delivery of service.

2.3 Where there are difficulties, discussions between the staff affected and managers should take place with the aim of balancing the needs of the University and those of other staff with those of the staff making the requests.

2.4 Staff should give as much notice as possible when requesting leave, and state that the request is connected to their religious needs. For most religious festivals and ceremonies, although not all, it should be possible for staff to make their request for leave known at the start of the leave year. Please see paragraph B1(6) above for sources of religious information.

Unpaid Leave

2.5 Particular religious or cultural requirements may involve lengthy visits abroad for family events e.g. weddings, funerals, or for pilgrimages e.g. Muslims are required to go on pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Requests for unpaid extended leave for such reasons should be treated sympathetically.

3 Religious Observance during the working day

3.1 The University recognises that some members of staff may wish to pray or worship during the working day. The University aims to accommodate these wishes by allowing staff to undertake observances at the desired times. However, all staff, regardless of religious belief or non-belief, are required to work in accordance with their contract and, in permitting time away from work for this purpose, the University expects that staff will make up any time/ work that would normally have been undertaken. Also, in deciding whether or not to grant a request, the University has to take account of business needs and its duty to treat all staff fairly.

3.2  Staff may request that their rest break coincides with their religious obligations to pray at certain times of the day.  On receiving such a request, managers will try to be flexible in accommodating these needs.

3.3  Wherever possible, the timing of key meetings should take account of the attendees’ religious needs. For example, regular meetings on a Friday afternoon may inadvertently disadvantage Jewish and Muslim staff. A flexible approach should be adopted.

3.4 In cases where staff are fasting, for example during Ramadan, and they feel this may affect their performance at work, they should bring this to the attention of their manager. Managers and the member of staff concerned should discuss appropriate measures with a view to maintaining performance while enabling the member of staff to continue with the religious observance.

Implementation

B3 – Student Issues

1  Assessment

1.1  The University is aware that certain religious festivals coincide with key events in the academic timetable. It is unable to arrange the University timetable around the religious festivals of all faith traditions. However the University will endeavour to treat enquiries and requests regarding the observance of religious festivals with understanding and consistency.

1.2 The University aims to ensure that the examination periods and coursework submission dates do not coincide with any particular major religious festival. If this is not possible for academic or practical reasons, efforts will be made to reconcile the relevant religious needs of students with the proper conduct of examinations and/or other forms of assessment.

1.3 In cases where students are fasting, for example during Ramadan, and they feel that this may affect their academic performance, they should bring this to the attention of appropriate academic or support staff. Staff and the student concerned should discuss appropriate measures with a view to maintaining performance while enabling the student to continue with the religious observance.

1.4 The University will not normally accept religious observance as valid extenuating circumstances. However, it is important that staff understand the significance of major religious events and how observance of them might affect student attendance or performance.

2 Attendance

2.1 Students are expected to attend classes as is appropriate for their programme of study.  However, time off from study may be expected for students attending religious festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr and Yom Kippur. If there is a conflict between the timing of classes and religious needs, students should draw this to the attention of the relevant staff. If it is practical, and taking into account the interests of other students, alternative arrangements may be made. If students are absent, staff are expected to take reasonable steps to help students to catch up with work they have missed and to ensure that they experience no undue disadvantage.

2.2 Similarly staff should be aware that particular religious or cultural requirements may involve lengthy visits abroad for family events e.g. weddings, funerals. If this occurs students should discuss with staff the effect of this on their study and assessment in advance of their travel. Depending on the timing and duration of the student’s absence from the course it may affect the duration of course and timing of assessment.

3 Accommodation

The University provides single sex accommodation and, as far as possible given availability, will meet requests for such accommodation.

4 Work Related Learning

If a student involved in work related learning, such as a placement, has a religious observance request, such as time off to pray, which requires some alteration to work arrangements, he or she should discuss this in the first instance with a relevant tutor in the University and may wish to seek advice from the Multifaith Chaplaincy. If the student decides to make the request to the employer this should be done as soon as possible and a relevant tutor should be informed. The employer will take account of business needs and current policies and practices in reaching a decision, as well as legal obligations under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

However, it cannot be assumed that the employer will grant permission. If the request is turned down the University may be prepared to make its own request to the employer and/or to assist the student in finding a suitable alternative arrangement. However, it cannot guarantee to do either and the student should not withdraw from the arrangement without the permission of the University. In some cases it will not be possible, due to legitimate reasons, for a religious observance request to be granted and it will still be necessary for a student to continue in the placement or with other work related learning.

Issuing Authority: University Secretary

Approved by the Board of Governors, 18th May 2004, Paper Reference BG/2/04/11

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