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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) this week updated its online COVID-19 technical guidance to further explain its position regarding religious objections to employer COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Federal law may entitle an employee who has a religious objection to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement to an exception from that requirement. Employee religious objections and requests for religious accommodation specifically relate to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Commission’s guidance focuses on questions that arise when applicants or employees seek exemptions or accommodations from vaccine requirements on this basis.

The lessons learned from the EEOC’s October 25 update are:

  1. Title VII does not require employers to exempt employees from vaccine requirements for their political, social, or economic reasons, as these reasons are NOT “religious beliefs.”
  2. For an employer to be required to consider possible religious exemptions or accommodations, the applicant or employee must make a specific request. No “magic words”, however, are required to ask for an accommodation.
  3. Upon receiving a request for exemption or accommodation, Employers should assume that a religious belief or practice is sincerely held unless they have an “objective basis” for questioning either the religious nature or sincerity of the belief. Employers may ask any employee to describe the nature of their objection to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, how long they’ve held the religious belief underlying their objection, and how complying with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement would conflict with the individual’s religious beliefs or practices.
  4. Even though prior inconsistent conduct may raise a question regarding the sincerity of a person’s belief or practice, the EEOC recognizes that beliefs may change over time. Consequently, a request may be “sincere” even if an individual acted inconsistently with the belief in the past.
  5. Most determinations of whether a religious accommodation request must be granted will likely hinge on whether or not it would cause a business an “undue hardship.” In making this assessment, Employers may consider not only costs, but also “the risk of the spread of COVID-19 to other employees or to the public.”
  6. Each request should be considered on the basis of “its specific factual context,” and granting (or denying) one request does not necessarily mean that another request would require in the same result.
  7. Significantly, although an assumption that many more employees may seek a religious accommodation in the future is not evidence of an undue hardship, the EEOC recognizes that employers may need to “take into account the cumulative cost or burden of granting accommodations” to many other employees.

This latest guidance does not appear to require changes to any workplace policies or practices that are consistent with previous posts, but does emphasize the importance of having effective policies in place – including practices that inform applicants and employees how to request a religious accommodation – and the importance of providing effective training to company representatives who implement those policies.

The rules and government guidelines regarding the COVID-19 situation are rapidly changing and developing. Schwartz Rollins LLC is monitoring these changes and will continue to provide updates as we deem appropriate. This information is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation. Feel free to contact us with specific questions. To find out more information about the products and services we provide, please contact one of our attorneys (Jay Rollins or Debra Schwartz, or our paralegal, Vicki Perry) at 404-844-4130.


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