Can an Employer Require Notes from a Religious Leader?

Federal employment law requires that employers provide a reasonable accommodation for someone’s religious beliefs. This law does not require that employers bend over backwards to make the job more convenient for employees. However, reasonable accommodations are required.

Many employers unfortunately believe that employees invent a religious affiliation to change some aspect of the job they do not like. Employers therefore want some sort of tangible proof an employee truly practices a religion.

However, a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decision highlights that employer can be breaking antidiscrimination law when they require an employer get supporting notes from religious leaders.

The Facts of the Case

According to Reason, the dispute revolved around an adherent to Messianic Judaism who asked for a reasonable accommodation so that he could miss certain days for religious observance. He was working at a call center in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania at the time and wanted to take some days off. His employer required that the employee obtain a certification from either a religious leader or organization before they would grant the accommodation.

Unfortunately, the employee was not yet a member of the local congregation but nevertheless presented other documents to his employer. However, the employer still denied him time off and he was forced to quit his job at the call center.

The EEOC filed suit against the employer because of its belief that the employer was wrong to require certification from a religious leader or organization. The case is now working its way through the federal courts.

Why This Action is Significant

The federal courts, and not the EEOC, have the final say on what federal law means. However, the EEOC’s opinion carries great weight, and the agency often wins its legal fights. Unless the EEOC loses decisively in court over this issue, employers would be well advised not to request “certification” of any sort that a person belongs to an established religious congregation.

Instead, as the EEOC explained in its press release, an employee only needs to have a “sincerely held religious belief.” This does not mean that an employer must automatically accept that an employee’s religious belief is sincere. For example, if an employee behaves in ways that are markedly inconsistent with the professed belief, then an employer has rights to question it. Also, if the employee tried to get a change for secular reasons, only to be denied, then an employer is right to be skeptical if the employee now asks for an accommodation based on religious reasons.

Learn More About Religious Accommodation in New Jersey

Both employers and employees might have questions about what the law requires when it comes to a request for an accommodation. At the Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP, we have worked with both employers and employees to help them understand their rights and responsibilities.

If you are in the middle of a dispute, or if you are unsure of your rights, please contact our law firm today. One of our New Jersey employment litigation lawyers will meet with you for a confidential consultation.