Employment Law Alert – EEOC Issues New Guidance on Requests for Religious Exemptions to Employer Vaccine Mandates
October 27, 2021
On October 25, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) published additional guidance for employers implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements with respect to proffered religious objections from current and prospective employees. Specifically, the guidance addresses the interplay between these new requirements and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
The main takeaways from the guidance are as follows:
Employer Notification: Employees must present their employer with a request for a “religious accommodation” or a “reasonable accommodation” if they are requesting an exception to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of a conflict between the requirement and the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances. While the notification is mandatory, the EEOC has not (yet) provided or suggested a “form” or even particular language that any such notification must include.
Proffered Religious Objections Should Generally be Accepted at Face Value: Under Title VII, employers should typically assume that a request for religious accommodation is based on sincerely held religious beliefs. If an employer identifies an objective basis for skepticism as to the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer may make a limited factual inquiry and seek additional supporting information. Employees who elect not to comply with such a request risk losing any subsequent claim that they were improperly denied an accommodation. Note: While Title VII protects nontraditional religious beliefs that may be unfamiliar to employers, it does not protect social, political, or economic views or personal preferences.
Employers May Deny Religious Accommodations That Pose an Undue Hardship: Employers should consider all possible reasonable accommodations including telework and reassignment; however if an employer can demonstrate an inability to reasonably accommodate an employee’s requested religious accommodation without suffering “undue hardship” on its operations, Title VII does not require the request be accommodated. Employers considering denying such requests as unduly burdensome should consider the particular facts of each situation and their ability to demonstrate how much cost or disruption the requested accommodation would entail.
Employers May Elect Among Multiple Viable Accommodations: If multiple reasonable accommodations are capable of addressing a requested religious exception to a vaccine requirement without causing undue hardship under Title VII, an employee may choose among those options. As a matter of best practice, an employer should consider the employee’s preference, but the ultimate decision is the employer’s.
Accommodations Are Subject to Reevaluation: An Employer’s obligation to accommodate religious objections is ongoing and takes into account changing circumstances. Employers may discontinue previously granted accommodations that are no longer utilized for religious purposes or if a change in circumstances results in the accommodation now posing a previously unexperienced undue hardship.
If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact the Shulman Rogers attorney with whom you regularly work.
The contents of this Alert are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact the Shulman Rogers attorney with whom you regularly work or a member of the Shulman Rogers Employment and Labor Law Group.
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