In an effort to keep workplaces as safe as possible, many employers are requiring their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
But some workers are pushing back, not wanting to be forced to get vaccinated.
Employers have seen an increase in people claiming their religious beliefs prevent them from receiving the vaccine — but not all of these claims are legitimate.
To clear up the confusion, the EEOC has released updated guidance to help employers understand when they need to grant vaccine exemptions — and when they can deny them.
Sincerely held beliefs
First, if an employee is claiming a religious exemption, their religious beliefs need to be sincerely held.
To help determine this, ask the following questions:
- Has the employee behaved in a manner consistent with this professed belief during their time at the company?
- Is the timing of the request odd?
- Could the exemption be sought for a secular reason instead of a religious one?
The last question is a big one, since the EEOC specifically clarified in this update that Title VII doesn’t offer protections for social or political beliefs — common reasons why people may be opposed to the vaccine.
If an employee can’t prove their exemption is due to a sincerely-held religious belief, employers can deny the request.
The second major part of evaluating an exemption request is determining whether granting it would cause an undue hardship for the employer.
So even if an employee can prove their religious beliefs are legitimate, an employer can deny the exemption if the request would result in “significant difficulty or expense.” This could include a lack of resources on the employer’s part, or a major disruption to how the company operates.
The EEOC recognizes this situation is continuing to develop, and will offer more updates as needed.