EEOC Updates Guidance on Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccines
As more businesses begin implementing vaccination mandates for their workforce, they will likely run into the issue of religious objections. Religious objections to workplace rules are not new, but the challenge of religious exceptions to a new vaccine for a highly contagious pandemic is not something employers have experience dealing with.
In order to assist employers in navigating religious exemptions, the EEOC has updated its Technical Assistance document to address any potential issues employers may face:
- Employers should have contact information prepared for any individual requesting a religious accommodation. This contact information should explain the process for determining the validity of a religious accommodation and whom to contact with questions or concerns.
- As with other instances of religious accommodation requests in the workplace, the employer should accept that a religious exemption is made on a sincerely held belief unless there is some objective basis to suggest otherwise. Such objective bases can include past behavior consistent/inconsistent with the professed belief and the employee’s credibility based on general behavior.
- If such a basis exists (and can be documented), then an employee must comply with reasonable requests from the employer regarding their religious beliefs.
- Employers should not assume that one or two instances of behavior inconsistent with the professed belief is grounds to dismiss the religious exemption: it merely opens the door for an inquiry.
- An employer must accommodate an employee’s sincerely-held religious belief unless doing so would constitute an “undue hardship.” Undue hardships can potentially include a serious risk of spreading COVID-19 throughout the workforce and forcing other employees to increase their workload to compensate for the unvaccinated employee.
- Any grant of a religious exemption/accommodation may be deemed an “undue hardship” to the employer at a later date, and the accommodation may be revoked.
Employers should consult with their Human Resources Department to ensure the new EEOC guidance is being followed. You can read the entire updated Technical Assistance Document HERE.
Heather Reynolds, ESQ