EEOC Updates Guidance On Religion-Based Vaccination Exemptions

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on October 25, 2021 posted updated and expanded technical assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing questions about religious objections to employer COVID-19 vaccine requirements and how they interact with federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws.

EEOC Updates Guidance On Religion-Based Vaccination ExemptionsThe expanded technical assistance provides new information about how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies when an applicant or employee requests an exception from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.  This update provides employers, employees, and applicants with important assistance when navigating vaccine-related religious accommodation requests.

What does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 require?

Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances absent undue hardship.

What are the key updates to the EEOC technical assistance?

  • 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.

This technical assistance answers COVID-19 questions only from the perspective of the EEO laws. Other federal, state, and local laws come into play regarding the COVID-19 pandemic for employers, employees, and applicants. More information about the civil rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is available in the record of the EEOC’s April 28, 2021 hearing on that topic.  The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

For New York business advice, contact attorney Robert Friedman at (585) 484-7432.