How Do You Handle Religious Exemptions for COVID-19 Vaccine?
By Kevin M. Mosher • Nov 2, 2021
You may remember us sending an HR Tip of the Week a few months back highlighting COVID-19 myths about vaccine and mask requirements. With President Biden recently announcing the COVID-19 Action Plan and individual states issuing vaccination mandates, today we are examining how to handle requests for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition to state and federal vaccination mandates, employers can require employees to receive the vaccine. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts (and analogous state statutes and local ordinances), employers have an obligation to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship. Below is an outline of how to process an employee’s request to be exempt from a vaccination requirement based on their religious beliefs.
EEOC Clarification on Religious-Based Exemptions
This week the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its employer guidance to clarify about religious exemptions. This update states that Title VII doesn’t cover a worker’s request to be exempted from a workplace vaccination requirement for political, social, or economic views, personal preferences, or on nonreligious concerns about the possible effects of the vaccine.
Step One: Is the Employer Covered by Title VII?
All employers with 15 or more employers are covered by Title VII. This includes federal, state and local governments. However, even if you’re under this employee threshold, similar state or local laws may apply to your business.
Step Two: What Type of Exemption is Requested?
Employees’ requests for exemption of the vaccine requirements should be examined to determine if they are a request for a medical exemption (required by the Americans with Disability Act “ADA”) or a religious exemption (required by Title VII). Again, the EEOC has clearly stated that asking an employee’s vaccination status is not a disability-related inquiry for purpose of the ADA.
If the employee requests an exemption required by the ADA or Title VII, you should begin engaging in the interactive process to ascertain reasonable accommodations. If an employee is refusing the COVID-19 vaccine without a religious or medical exemption, the employer should reiterate the company’s policies regarding the vaccine and any consequences for not complying with the mandate and respond to any refusals to comply accordingly.
Step Three: Navigating the Interactive Process
Step Four: Does the Employee Have a Sincerely Held Religious Belief?
Step Five: Does the Accommodation Create Undue Hardship?
Step Six: Response and Future Review
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