Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn
On March 1, 2022, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance about “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” by adding several questions about religious objections employees may have to COVID-19 vaccine requirements under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.
The EEOC enforces Title VII, which includes a right for job applicants and employees to request an exception, called a religious or reasonable accommodation, from an employer requirement that conflicts with their religious beliefs, practices, or observances. If an employer shows that it cannot reasonably accommodate an exception without undue hardship on its operations, the employer is not required to grant the accommodation.
The EEOC suggests people interested in religious accommodation view Section 12: Religious Discrimination and Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Religion. Although other laws, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also may protect religious freedom in some circumstances, the EEOC guidance only describes employment rights and obligations under Title VII. The following questions were added to the guidance:
- Do employees who have a religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination need to tell their employer? If so, is there specific language that must be used under Title VII?
- Does an employer have to accept an employee’s assertion of a religious objection to a COVID-19 vaccination at face value? May the employer ask for additional information?
- How does an employer show that it would be an “undue hardship” to accommodate an employee’s request for religious accommodation?
- If an employer grants some employees a religious accommodation from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances, does it have to grant all such requests?
- Must an employer provide the religious accommodation preferred by an employee if there are other possible accommodations that also are effective in eliminating the religious conflict and do not cause an undue hardship under Title VII?
- If an employer grants a religious accommodation to an employee, can the employer later reconsider it?
Here is how the EEOC designed its own Religious Accommodation Request Form for its own workplace. Although the EEOC’s internal forms typically are not made public, it was included in the guidance given the extraordinary circumstances facing employers and employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Note: Individuals not employed by the EEOC should not submit this form to the EEOC to request a religious accommodation.)
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws. To learn more about the EEOC, visit www.eeoc.gov.
COVID-19 is a potentially deadly respiratory illness that spreads from person to person. As of March 1, 2022, there are more than 437 million global cases and more than 5.9 million global deaths, while the United States leads the world with more than 79 million cases and more than 951,000 deaths, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
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