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Human Resources

H.R. Questions: Can I get a religious exemption for a mandatory vaccine policy at work?

Maybe. Generally, the law provides for religious exemptions or accommodations when a company policy crosses a “sincerely held belief”.
The EEOC has commented on this in detail advising that the Interactive Process be used to determine what accommodation, if any, is available.  https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation    See Section K 1. here https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

 

So, how does an employer know if an employee has an actual religious objection or is simply using this excuse to cover for a philosophical objection?

The EEOC has identified four factors that can create doubt in an employer’s mind as to the sincerity of the employee’s belief.

They include:

Whether the employee has acted in a way that is inconsistent with the claimed belief;
Whether the employee is seeking a benefit or an exception that is likely to be sought for nonreligious reasons;
Whether the timing of the request is questionable (for example, because it follows closely on the heels of the same employee’s request for the same benefit for different reasons); and
Whether the employer has other reasons to believe that the employee is seeking the benefit for secular reasons.

These steps can be part of the Interactive Process used for ADA and religious accommodations. HelpDeskforHR.com has an app for that!

When an employer has a basis for questioning the employee’s religious belief, the employer can request additional information from the employee to decide whether to approve the religious accommodation request. Employers should collect information on a standardized form, and the information should provide clarity as to the nature of the employee’s position.

 

Where an employee’s objection to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is not rooted in a “sincerely held religious belief,” no accommodation must be made and the employer is free to enforce the mandatory vaccination policy even if this includes terminating the employee.

 

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Lisa Smith, SPHR, SHRM – SCP
Certified EEO Investigator (EEOC)
Lead Support and Content Chief – HelpDeskforHR.com
“You cannot be audit-proof, but you can Be Audit-Secure.”

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