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EEOC issues vaccine-related religious exemption guidance


There are no “magic words” employees have to say in asking for a religious accommodation with respect to COVID-19 vaccine mandates,  and employers should assume these requests are based on sincerely held religious beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says in guidance issued Monday based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But workers “do need to notify the employer that there is a conflict between their sincerely held religious belief and the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement,” the guidance says.

And while the employer should assume the religious accommodation request is valid, it is “justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional supporting information,” and may ask for an explanation of how the worker’s religious belief conflicts with the vaccination requirement, the guidance says.

If there is an issue of undue hardship in accommodating an employee’s request, which would permit the company to deny it, the company must demonstrate how much cost or disruption the proposed accommodation would involve, according to the guidance.

The guidance says also that if an employer grants some employees a religious accommodation, it does not necessarily have to do so for all employees.  That depends on the requested accommodation’s “specific factual context,” it says.

More than one type of accommodation can be offered, the guidance says, and it can be up to the employer as to which one to offer. Furthermore, the employer has the right to discontinue a previously granted accommodation if it is no longer being used for religious purposes or if it subsequently poses an undue hardship, it says.