New EEOC Guidance on Religious Exemptions

Fri, 04/29/22

 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has updated its guidance on how to properly assess a religious accommodation request for an exemption to a COVID vaccine policy based on a sincerely held religious belief.

 CMPR previously posted here on how to properly assess a request for religious accommodation. The updated guidance provides some much needed clarification to employers faced with evaluating  a request for accommodation. Some important updates include:

  • You may ask your employee further questions to determine the religious nature or the sincerity of the stated belief. Employers must be careful to only engage in a limited inquiry and request reasonable verification.  For example, refrain from repeatedly questioning the employee on topics they have already explained.
  • Employers may establish that it cannot provide the religious accommodation due to an undue hardship by (1) documenting the accommodations considered, and (2) determining that the accommodation would (a) impair workplace safety, (b) diminish efficiency in other jobs, or (c) cause coworkers to carry the accommodated employee’s share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.
  • If you have granted a religious accommodation, can you change your mind and retract the accommodation? The short answer is yes, if the circumstances have changed and the accommodation is now creating an undue hardship on the business. However, we suggest if you intend on withdrawing an accommodation, you engage with the employee and consider alternative accommodations before concluding no other accommodations are possible.

Assessing religious accommodations can be very difficult, as religious beliefs may be sincerely held even if they are unique and do not track widely held religious tenets.  Therefore, employers should  take requests for religious accommodation seriously and consult with employment counsel to assist in reaching the correct decision. 

 If you have any questions or need any additional information on this topic, please call Samantha Pungprakearti or Arif Virji at Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross LLP – (707) 526-4200.

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