Determining If Religious Beliefs Are 'Sincerely Held'

Determining If Religious Beliefs Are 'Sincerely Held' Image: Booyabazooka, via Wikimedia Commons

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision making headlines, religious freedom and its accommodation by employers are in the spotlight. But how can you tell when beliefs meet the “sincerely held” standard? Jarad Lucan, writing on Daniele Schwartz’s employment law blog, has some tips on determining when the beliefs are bona fide:

  • No “Bright-Line” Test: Lucan explains there isn’t one determining test that can be relied on, and instead points to guidance issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which states that employers should begin with the assumption that the belief is sincerely held, even if it has to do with an unfamiliar religious practice.
  • Evidence: Some form of evidence may be requested when an employer has an “objective basis” for inquiry, says Lucan. The evidence doesn’t necessarily require verification, and if it does, the third party doesn’t have to be a religious official or member, he says. It’s enough if the person simply is aware of the employee’s belief. “Employers are cautioned, however, not to demand unnecessary or excessive evidence to support an employee’s claim that he or she has a sincerely held religious belief,” warns Lucan.
  • Circumstances: Though there’s little case law on the subject, Lucan says to watch out for these circumstances: whether the employee has behaved in a manner inconsistent with the professed belief in the past, whether the accommodation sought is a desirable benefit and whether the timing is questionable or follows a request for the same benefit for secular reasons, he says.
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