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Accommodating “Sincerely Held” Beliefs

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion. More precisely, though, it requires that “sincerely held” religious beliefs be accommodated, as long as it is not an undue burden on the employer to do so. This can create a lot of questions, especially for an employee who believes they have been discriminated against. It can feel like an extra violation, but the issue of the sincerity of your religious belief may come up if you decide to file a complaint against your employer, and it is important to be ready for that.

Religious Beliefs Generally Accommodated

Title VII applies to any business with 15 or more employees, with some exceptions. Title VII does not require affirmative action, but it does outlaw discrimination (both intentional and situational) based on race, color, gender, national origin, and religion. It also requires that if any of these characteristics require accommodation, an employer must accommodate unless it is an “undue hardship” for them.

Exactly what constitutes an “undue hardship” will vary from company to company. For example, letting an employee not work on Friday evenings so they can attend weekly Shabbat services might be acceptable in a 500-person company, but in a mom-and-pop business with a handful of employees, it might be seen as too burdensome. Generally, though, if Title VII applies to your employer, and you are denied accommodation for your sincerely held religious belief, it is generally appropriate to assume one of two reasons why: either the accommodation is seen as too much of a hardship, or your belief is not seen as sincere.

How To Determine Sincerity?

If your accommodation request is denied because your belief is not seen as sincere, it can be extremely insulting, given that most people simply want to practice their religion in peace. However, your employer may also be using that reasoning as an excuse to discriminate, especially if your religious beliefs center around a less common faith. Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines religious beliefs as including those that are new, informal, small, or even those that “seem illogical or unreasonable to others,” and some employers may disagree. 

While there is no bright-line test to gauge the sincerity of someone’s beliefs, it does tend to speak in your favor if your behavior has been consistent. In other words, if you can show that you have previously conformed to any outward tenets of the faith and have not done anything against it. For example, if a person were to seek religious accommodation based on being Muslim, but was seen consuming pork and performing other activities forbidden to observant Muslims, their request would be understandably suspect. It can also be a good sign if there is no other reason why your accommodation would be requested—i.e., if there is no secular reason to ask.

Contact An Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today

If your request for accommodation has been denied because your beliefs are being doubted, it can be cause to bring a charge against your employer. To help determine how best to proceed, it is a good idea to contact an employment discrimination lawyer. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled these types of cases for many years, and is happy to try and help with yours. Call the firm of Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule a consultation.

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