EEOC Updates Religious-Accommodation Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccinations

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Even as the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, we continue to receive questions concerning employee objections to COVID-19 vaccinations. Happily, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued recent guidance on navigating this thorny area. You may review the new guidelines in Section L here.

Some highlights from the EEOC’s updates include the following clarifications:

  • An employer need not accept an employee’s assertion of religious beliefs blindly. While the EEOC states that employers should generally assume that an employee’s request for a religious accommodation is sincere, the EEOC has clarified that an employer need not blindly assume this is so in the face of countervailing evidence. What sort of evidence are we talking about? We’re talking about objective evidence that calls into question an employee’s professed religious belief. Such evidence may include, without limitation, the timing of the request; whether the employee has acted in a manner inconsistent with the professed belief; and whether an employer has reason to think that the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons.
  • An employer may ask an employee for an explanation of how a vaccine conflicts with the employee’s religious beliefs. Just because an employee says that a vaccine conflicts with his or her religion does not make it so. The EEOC has clarified that an employer may ask an employee to explain how his or her religious beliefs, practices, or observances conflict with a vaccine requirement.
  • An employer may revoke a religious accommodation that it has previously granted to an employee. Sometimes, an employee’s religious beliefs change such that a religious accommodation is no longer warranted. Other times, the EEOC says, an accommodation is no longer used by an employee for a religious purpose. Still, other times, a religious accommodation imposes an undue hardship on an employer. In these cases, the EEOC states that a religious accommodation may be revoked—but that, in any event, such revocation should generally occur after the employer and employee have had an opportunity to discuss the revocation.

We recommend that all employers review the latest guidelines. While they do not address every conceivable religious-accommodation inquiry under the sun, they are an excellent resource to guide you in the right direction.

If you need assistance on how this impacts your business, please contact us at info@mnklawyers.com.

This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.

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