With government and private-sector vaccine mandates taking effect soon, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday updated its technical assistance question-and-answer document to provide guidance on how employers may respond to an employee’s request for an accommodation to a vaccine requirement based on a conflict between that requirement and the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.
Under the law, employees who have a religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination are entitled to a reasonable accommodation if one can be provided without imposing undue hardship to the employer. The EEOC made clear that, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer would be justified in making a “limited factual inquiry” and seeking additional supporting information from the employee.
The EEOC also provided “common and relevant considerations” for determining whether the accommodation request poses an undue hardship to the employer. Factors constituting hardship to the employer include not only direct monetary costs but also the burden of non-vaccinated employees to the employer’s business, including the risk of the spread of COVID-19 to other employees or to the public. The EEOC stated that employers should consider whether the employee requesting the religious accommodation works outdoors or indoors, works in a solitary or group work setting, or has close contact with other employees or members of the public.