COVID 19 Update Regarding Religious Exemptions

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC has provided updates to the COVID-19 guidance on workplace vaccine issues and the workers who are seeking religious exemptions. This update was provided while we wait for OSHA to issue the new regulation that would require all U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or require regular testing.

The EEOC made it clear that an employee seeking a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the vaccination requirement conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. The EEOC clarified that an employee’s political, social, or economic views do not qualify as "religious beliefs".

  • Employees and applicants must inform their employers if they seek an exception to an employer’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement due to a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.
  • Title VII requires employers to consider requests for religious accommodations but does not protect social, political, or economic views, or personal preferences of employees who seek exceptions to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
  • Employers that demonstrate “undue hardship” are not required to accommodate an employee’s request for a religious accommodation.

It is unclear how courts will treat a request for a religious accommodation. Recently a federal appeals court held that the State of Maine need not allow health care workers to opt out on religious grounds.