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New Guidance on Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements Issued by EEOC

2021-11-08

Updated guidance addresses employer’s responsibilities and obligations when religious exemptions are cited

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws on October 25, 2021 to address religious objections to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Key Takeaways from the updated guidance

  • Refusal to Get Vaccinated Due to Religious Reasons - Employees refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 must inform their employers that there is “a conflict between their sincerely held religious beliefs and the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement.” [FAQ L.1.]  The employer may ask for an explanation of how the employee’s religious belief conflicts with the vaccination requirement. [FAQ L.2.]
  • Requesting a Religious Accommodation – Employees must advise their employer that they are requesting an accommodation in lieu of getting COVID-19 vaccine, due to a conflict between their religious belief and a vaccination mandate.  [FAQ L.1] 
    • Best practice – employers inform employees and applicants as to the procedure for submitting a request for a religious accommodation, including the name of a contact person.  EEOC’s Religious Accommodation Request Form.
    • Examples of reasonable accommodations – requiring an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace to: (1) wear a face mask, (2) work at a social distance from co-workers and non-employees, (3) work a modified shift, (4) get periodic tests for COVID-19, (5) telework, and (6) reassignment. [FAQ K.2.]
  • Granting a Religious Accommodation - If there is more than one reasonable accommodation that would resolve the conflict between the religiously held belief and the company’s vaccination requirement, the employer may consider the employee’s preference; however, they may choose which accommodation to offer. [FAQ L.5.]
  • Accommodations Can be Changed – Changing circumstances may influence the accommodation obligation.  “An employer has the right to discontinue a previously granted accommodation if it is no longer utilized for religious purposes, or if a provided accommodation subsequently poses an undue hardship on the employer’s operations due to changed circumstances.” [FAQ L.6.]
  • Undue Hardship - After assessing the request and possible accommodations on a case-by-case basis, an employer may not need to provide the accommodation if it is an undue hardship.  Hardship includes a significant difficulty or expense and may include “the risk of the spread of COVID-19 to other employees or to the public.”  An employer “cannot rely on speculative hardships when faced with an employee’s religious objective but, rather, should rely on objective information.” [FAQ L.3. and L.4.]
    • Best practice – reach out to support organizations, like the Job Accommodation Network, for assistance in evaluating the accommodation request.  Documents all efforts to provide the accommodation. 

The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of Workplace Dynamics LLC and is not being represented as being all-inclusive or complete. It has been abridged from legislation, administrative ruling, agency directives, and other information provided by the government. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel.