EEOC updates guidelines on vaccination mandate religious accommodations: 5 details

Kelly Gooch -

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission posted updated guidelines Oct. 25 addressing questions about federal law and religious objections to COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The EEOC has said U.S. employers can legally require employees physically entering the workplace to receive a COVID-19 shot.

An employer would not violate EEOC laws by implementing a mandate, if it complies with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other equal employment opportunity considerations, the EEOC said in a May 28 guideline.

Five updates from the EEOC related to religious objections and federal laws:

1.  Employees must inform their employer if they are requesting an exception to a vaccination requirement because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances. However, employees do not need to use any "magic words," such as "religious accommodation" or "Title VII," when making the request.  

2. Under Title VII, an employer should assume that religious accommodation requests are because of sincerely held religious beliefs. However, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning an employee's sincerity, the employer could make a limited factual inquiry and seek additional supporting information.

3. Employers should consider all possible reasonable accommodations for an employee's religious belief, including telework and reassignment. However, Title VII does not require the employer to provide the accommodation if the employer can demonstrate such accommodation would create an "undue hardship" on its operations.

4. An employer that grants some employees a religious accommodation from a vaccination requirement because of sincerely held religious beliefs is not required to grant the requests of all employees who seek such an accommodation. The EEOC said, "The determination of whether a particular proposed accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business depends on its specific factual context," meaning the employer may consider factors such as the individual employee's work environment or job duties. 

5. An employer is not required to provide the religious accommodation preferred by an employee if other possible accommodations exist that also would effectively eliminate the religious conflict and do not cause an undue hardship under federal law.

Read the full EEOC guidance here

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