“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people… Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin. ” ― Charles M. Schulz
Employers are not required to know all tenets of different belief systems, thus employees must put them on notice to request accommodation. But a “religious belief” does not require a recognized church or denomination. An employee need only give adequate information to an employer to invoke protection. Religious observance is not limited to prayer or worship; it can include dietary choices or declining to work on particular days or in certain ways. If requests are made for secular reasons, though, an employer can refuse the request. But employers must be careful about questioning beliefs. The law requires that the belief must be sincerely held. EEOC guidance provides that when the employee acts inconsistently with the belief, when the request appears made for secular reasons, when the timing of a request is suspicious, or when a religious request follows the denial of a secular request, then the sincerity of a belief may be questioned.
Creating a policy setting out how to make a request for accommodation is a must. Also, many employers have a sexual harassment policy. However, a better practice is to create a more general anti-harassment policy that covers all protected categories, including religion. Religion can be a unifying force, but it can also cause a great deal of strife. Protecting against strife and discrimination based on religious belief in the workplace is essential.