According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under Title VII, “an employer should assume that a request for religious accommodation is based on sincerely held religious beliefs. However, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer would be justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional supporting information.”
When an employer requests additional information, “employees should provide information that addresses the employer’s reasonable doubts. That information need not, however, take any specific form.”
The EEOC says written materials or the employee’s personal first-hand explanation may be sufficient to alleviate the employer’s doubts about the sincerity or religious nature of the employee’s professed belief such that third-party verification is unnecessary. In addition, since individual beliefs can be sincerely held and religious, even when third-party verification is requested, it does not have to come from a clergy member or fellow congregant, but rather could be provided by others who are aware of the employee’s religious practice or belief.
If an employee fails to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable request for verification of the sincerity or religious nature of a professed belief, he/she risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation. However, if an employer unreasonably requests unnecessary or excessive corroborating evidence they risk being held liable for denying a reasonable accommodation request, and their actions could be challenged as retaliatory or as part of a pattern of harassment.