EEOC Issues Updated Guidance on Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates

On Monday October 26, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated guidance issued on the onset of the COVID pandemic, to now include further information on religious exemptions to COVID vaccine mandates.

Important Updates Included in the Guidance:

  • Employees must specifically notify their employer that they are requesting an exemption due to the COVID-19 vaccine due to sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.  Employees don’t have to specifically state that they are seeking an exemption, however they must notify their employers that there is a severe conflict between their beliefs and the employer’s COVID vaccine mandate.
  • An employer should generally assume the employee is being sincere, however if there is an objective basis for questioning the religious nature of the sincerity, the employer would be justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional information.  If the employer is denied by the employee, the employee loses any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied the claim.
  • If the employee’s objection to the COVID vaccination is not religious in nature, the employer is not required to provide an exception to the vaccine requirement as a religious accommodation.
  • Title VII requires an employer to thoroughly consider all possible options for reasonable accommodations for unvaccinated employees, however if the employer is able to demonstrate that they would be unable to accommodate without an ‘undue hardship,’ the employer is not required to provide an accommodation under Title VII.
  • Similarly, an employer is not required to accommodate all religious accommodation requests from all employees, even if some are granted accommodations.  An employer should consider all available accommodation options, and if they are unable to reasonably accommodate an employee based on their job responsibilities or workplace duties, they do not need to accommodate under Title VII.
  • If there are multiple reasonable accommodations available, the employer is not obligated to allow the employee to choose the reasonable accommodation they would prefer.
  • Employers may be allowed to discontinue religious accommodations if the employee no longer using the accommodations for religious purposes (i.e. Employee receives COVID-19 vaccine, no longer practices the religion/beliefs).  However, an employer must discuss with the employee that the accommodation poses an undue hardship on the employer.

This blog article is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion.  Contact myHRcounsel with questions about the use and enforcement of vaccine mandates.