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  • EEOC Clarifies Religious Exemption to Vaccination Mandates

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a detailed update to its technical assistance related to COVID. In particular, the October 25th updates to the FAQs are in relation to the extremely complex and sensitive practice involving religious accommodations as a qualifier for an exemption to an employer’s vaccination mandate. The updates are insightful, but stop short of providing the full clarity we may have hoped for.

    The full text with all FAQs can be found here: technical assistance. The latest updates can be found in Section L. Vaccinations – Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates. Note that there are also a number of updates posted on October 13th and found in Section K. Vaccinations – Overview, ADA, Title VII, and GINA.

    Spoiler alert, some of the highlights of the new FAQs include:

    • Do employees with a religious objection to COVID vaccination need to tell their employer? Yes, but there is no “magic: language that must be used.
    • Can an employer question the validity of an employee’s assertion of a religious objection? It is difficult, and the employee does not have to prove that they have always followed the religious doctrine. However, the employer may ask for an explanation of how the employee’s religious belief conflicts with the employer’s vaccination mandate.
    • If an employee is granted a religious exemption, but then exhibits behavior counter to the tenets of the religion, can the employer rescind the accommodation? Yes, an employer has the right to discontinue a previously granted accommodation if it is no longer utilized for religious purposes.

    There’s much more! Please continue to our blog for the EEOC’s general statement on the updated technical assistance.

    Oct. 25, 2021

    EEOC ISSUES UPDATED COVID-19 TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

    Provides Additional Information on Equal Employment Opportunity Laws and Religious Objections to Workplace Vaccine Requirements

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today posted updated and expanded technical assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing questions about religious objections to employer COVID-19 vaccine requirements and how they interact with federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws.

    The expanded technical assistance provides new information about how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies when an applicant or employee requests an exception from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

    “This update provides employers, employees, and applicants with important assistance when navigating vaccine-related religious accommodation requests,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances absent undue hardship. This update will help safeguard that fundamental right as employers seek to protect workers and the public from the unique threat of COVID-19.”

    The key updates to the technical assistance are summarized below:

    • 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 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.

    The EEOC is providing this information to the public as many employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment.

    This technical assistance answers COVID-19 questions only from the perspective of the EEO laws. Other federal, state, and local laws come into play regarding the COVID-19 pandemic for employers, employees, and applicants. As new developments occur, the EEOC will consider any impact they may have on EEOC’s COVID-19 technical assistance and will provide additional updates and assistance to the public as needed.

    More information about the civil rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is available in the record of the EEOC’s April 28, 2021 hearing on that topic.