- Social, political or economic views — or personal preferences — do not support requests for religious exemptions to coronavirus vaccine mandates, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Monday.
- The statement came in a press release announcing updated COVID-19 guidance from the agency, which enforces federal nondiscrimination laws.
- "Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances absent undue hardship," Commission Chair Charlotte Burrows said in the announcement. "This update will help safeguard that fundamental right as employers seek to protect workers and the public from the unique threat of COVID-19."
EEOC's updates may provide additional backing for employers implementing coronavirus vaccine mandates, but also come with guidance regarding accommodations.
Federal law requires that companies consider individual exemption requests as accommodations for disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs. Individuals seeking accommodation for the latter may be required to explain how their beliefs conflict with the employer's requirement; "When an employee's objection to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement is not religious in nature, or is not sincerely held, Title VII does not require the employer to provide an exception to the vaccination requirement as a religious accommodation," the guidance states.
Employers must then accommodate those with sincerely held religious beliefs, unless the only accommodations available pose an "undue hardship" on the business. In the Oct. 25 update, the EEOC added information on that step in the process, too: "The Supreme Court has held that requiring an employer to bear more than a 'de minimis,' or a minimal, cost to accommodate an employee's religious belief is an undue hardship," it said. "Costs to be considered include not only direct monetary costs but also the burden on the conduct of the employer's business – including, in this instance, the risk of the spread of COVID-19 to other employees or to the public."
Notably, the commission also said that relevant considerations during the pandemic may include whether an employee requesting a religious exemption works outdoors or indoors, works in a solitary or group setting, or has close contact with other employees or members of the public, especially medically vulnerable individuals. The number of employees seeking a similar accommodation also may be relevant to the "cumulative cost or burden on the employer," it said.
Employers with 100 or more employees will soon be required to adopt such mandates. The White House announced that requirement last month. Rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration implementing the mandate are under White House review, and publication is expected any day.