How Do Workers Get Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates? It’s Complicated
As workers throughout the U.S. rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the federal agency charged with preventing workplace discrimination has updated its guidance on how employers should navigate religious-based requests for exemptions.
But the EEOC's guidance may do little to sort the legal boundaries for religious accommodation requests being tested in courtrooms across the country. These cases can be complex because employers have a right to probe whether a worker's stated religious belief actually conflicts with vaccination.
“That’s essentially the $64,000 question,” says Blank Rome's Gus Sandstrom, a labor and employment lawyer. “That’s where all the complication lies.”
Workers have a right to a religious exemption under Title VII of the Civil Right Act, Sandstrom explains. Aside from a narrow set of employers who aren't engaged in interstate commerce, he says, the law covers nearly all U.S. employers and therefore nearly all U.S. workers. Even without the federal law, he said, a parallel state law would almost certainly require religious accommodation.
“Every employer should assume it applies to them,” Sandstrom says.
While the high court in TWA v. Hardison provided some guidance for employers on whether they're actually required to grant the accommodation, the definition of undue burden continues to evolve.
“This now will be a rapidly developing area of the law, simply because there are so many, and so varied, requests that are coming in, that are based on religion," Sandstrom says.
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“How Do Workers Get Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates? It’s Complicated,” by Alexis Keenan was published in Yahoo! Finance on October 28, 2021.