The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released additional guidance on religious objections to workplace vaccine requirements in its technical assistance manual.
The EEOC’s Oct. 25, 2021, press release about the guidance outlines the following updates:
- Employees and applicants must inform their employers if they seek an exception to an employer’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement due to a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance
- Title VII requires employers to consider requests for religious accommodations but does not protect the social, political, or economic views or personal preferences of employees who seek exceptions to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement
- Employers that demonstrate “undue hardship” are not required to accommodate an employee’s request for a religious accommodation
None of this really seems “new,” but looking into the detail of the questions and answers, there is some helpful information.
Specific Language When Requesting a Religious Accommodation?
The EEOC notes in the guidance that although there is no specific language that must be used to request a religious accommodation, employees do need to notify their employer they have a conflict between their sincerely held religious belief and the employer’s vaccination requirement.
This applies even if the employee has an objection only to a specific vaccine and want to wait for an alternative vaccine to become available.
Challenging the Validity of the Request?
Employers may conduct a limited inquiry and request additional information if the employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief.
This can be tricky, though, as the employee’s sincerity in holding a religious belief is generally a matter of individual credibility. Employees who fail to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable request for verification of the sincerity of the employee’s beliefs or the religious nature may risk losing any future claim that the employer improperly denied their accommodation.
How Does an Employer Show ‘Undue Hardship’?
Generally, an undue hardship exists when the accommodation would affect workplace safety, diminish efficiency in other positions in the organization, or cause co-workers to carry the share of the accommodated employee’s work.
Each situation must be evaluated individually, and employers, if claiming an undue hardship, should have objective information to support such a claim.
A Religious Accommodation Was Granted. Do Employers Have to Grant All Subsequent Requests?
Essentially, no. Each request should be reviewed on its own merit and under the specific facts of the situation — consider the employee’s position, employer’s business and accommodation requested.
Can Employers Reconsider or Rescind a Religious Accommodation Already Provided?
Yes, an employer has the right to reconsider a previously granted accommodation if it poses an undue hardship on the employer due to changed circumstances or if the accommodation is no longer utilized for religious purposes.
More of the Technical Guidance from the EEOC
The specific Q&As from the EEOC’s technical guidance can be found here.
This information may be useful to employers who are currently mandating vaccination for their employees. Plus, is timely given the potential release soon of the highly anticipated documentation of President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for private employers.