On Monday, as it has done periodically throughout the pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its now-lengthy technical assistance related to COVID-19. This new guidance comes as U.S. employers increasingly have abandoned encouraging or incentivizing vaccinations for their workforces in favor of vaccine mandates, in an effort to get their employees back to work on site (for those who have been working remotely) and in a determined effort to curb the spread of the disease among those who have been working throughout the pandemic or who are just returning to the workplace.
“Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances absent undue hardship. This update will help safeguard that fundamental right as employers seek to protect workers and the public from the unique threat of COVID-19,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows.
As more businesses have imposed vaccine mandates, either on their own or in response to state or local requirements, many employers have experienced an unanticipated surge in employee requests for religious exemptions and accommodations. The new guidance focuses on this development. Key updates to the technical assistance include:
- 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.
See the full technical guidance here. Ballard Spahr’s Labor & Employment Group has assisted employers across the nation in developing vaccination programs and address employee requests for exemptions and accommodations. Through the COVID-19 Resource Center our lawyers have kept our clients and friends informed on COVID-19 developments throughout the pandemic.