EEOC Updates Guidance on Religious Accommodations for COVID-19 Vaccines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently answered more questions from employers on how to handle religious objections to COVID-19 vaccinations and requests for accommodation. Here’s what employers need to know.

The updated guidance answers the following questions about religious accommodations for COVID-19 vaccination requirements:

  • Do employees who have a religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination need to tell their employer?
  • Does an employer have to accept an employee’s assertion at face value, or may the employer ask for additional information?
  • How does an employer show that accommodating an employee’s request would cause an undue hardship?

The EEOC also made its own internal accommodation request form available to the public.

“Although the EEOC’s internal forms typically are not made public, it is included here given the extraordinary circumstances facing employers and employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said.

Employers should note that the EEOC’s guidance covers only the anti-discrimination laws it enforces and employees may have added protections under other federal and state laws.

Employers may offer alternative accommodations or reject a job modification that would cause an undue hardship for the business. However, they should note that the “undue hardship” evaluation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers disability accommodations, is different from the one under Title VII, which covers religious accommodations.

The ADA’s stringent undue-hardship standard—which considers whether the modification would cause “significant difficulty or expense” — doesn’t apply to religious accommodation requests under Title VII.

Courts have found that anything more than a “de minimis,” or trivial, cost can cause undue hardship in religious accommodation cases, and the EEOC noted in its guidance that costs include the risk of spreading the coronavirus and other safety hazards.

Employers should consider objective information, the EEOC said, such as whether the employee works outdoors or indoors; works alone or in a group; or has close contact with co-workers, customers or other business partners.

“Under Title VII, an employer should thoroughly consider all possible reasonable accommodations, including telework and reassignment,” the agency said.