Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Updated EEOC guidance on religious accommodations and COVID-19 vaccine mandates

As employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates ramp up - voluntarily, in response to federal contractor mandates, and in anticipation of the OSHA emergency standard - the EEOC continues to update its Q&A on COVID-19 and EEO laws. Yesterday, it added a new section: L. Vaccinations – Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates.

The whole thing is worth a read (especially if you have employees requesting religious accommodations to vaccine mandates), but a few highlights:

  •  "Title VII does not protect social, political, or economic views, or personal preferences."
  • Employers should generally assume an employee's religious belief is sincerely held unless there is a basis to question it, in which case the employer may make limited inquiries and seek "additional supporting information."
  • Not official use.
    "Although prior inconsistent conduct is relevant to the question of sincerity, an individual’s beliefs – or degree of adherence – may change over time and, therefore, an employee’s newly adopted or inconsistently observed practices may nevertheless be sincerely held."
  • The employer does not need to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would impose an "undue hardship" (for religion, merely more than a "de minimis" cost). Some "common and relevant" considerations: "whether the employee requesting a religious accommodation to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement works outdoors or indoors, works in a solitary or group work setting, or has close contact with other employees or members of the public (especially medically vulnerable individuals). Another relevant consideration is the number of employees who are seeking a similar accommodation (i.e., the cumulative cost or burden on the employer)."

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