Every employer that implements a mandatory vaccination policy for COVID-19 must also grant genuine requests for religious accommodation when they do not pose undue hardship. Judging when to grant or reject these requests is one of the most difficult tasks employers can face.
Many employers find the task of judging whether or not a belief is true so difficult that they simply travel to try and find accommodation. While the job of determining whether a request for religious accommodation should be done carefully, employers are not without options.
What is a sincere religious belief?
Title VII provides an extremely broad definition of religion, and the advice of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) should give employers some idea of ââthe difficulty of determining what the law considers a belief. sincere nun. According to the EEOC Compliance Manual, “religion” includes all traditional religions as well as new beliefs that are not part of any formal church and can only be held by a very small number of people, including beliefs that seem unreasonable or illogical.
Because of the difficulty in determining what a sincere religious belief is, the EEOC urges employers to ordinarily assume that a request for religious accommodation is based on a sincere religious belief. This means that employers should only ask for additional information when they have an objective reason to question whether the belief is religious.
This can happen when employees refer to vague legal rights or political ideologies, as well as concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. In cases like these, where an employer is given an objective reason to question whether a belief is truly religious or sincere, an employer may ask for additional supporting information.
In deciding this, the EEOC established four factors for employers to consider:
- Did the employee behave in a manner inconsistent with this professed belief?
- Is accommodation a particularly desirable benefit that an employee might seek for non-religious reasons?
- Is the time of the request subsequent to the same request made for non-religious reasons?
- Are there other objective reasons to believe that the accommodation is being requested for non-religious reasons?
Sometimes past behavior can provide a strong indicator of inconsistencies, for example if the employee claims the vaccines violate their religion; however, they have received annual flu shots in the past. Sometimes these inconsistencies may not be enough, however, to conclude that the belief is not sincere, in which case employers should consider whether the accommodation would constitute undue hardship.
Employers are required to reasonably accommodate workers who hold sincere religious beliefs, but they do not need to provide accommodations that would create undue hardship. Given that COVID-19 has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States, employers can make a strong case that allowing unvaccinated workers to enter the workplace can be an undue burden. This will always require considering the individual circumstances of the worker and whether they would present a direct threat to others as well as any cost to the employer.
While simply allowing the employee to remain unvaccinated would present undue hardship, employers should also consider other alternatives, such as remote working, mask wear, social distancing, regular testing, and any other viable option. However, if these accommodations were still undue hardship, the employer may still have a reason to terminate the employee for non-compliance.