The phrase “religious accommodation” has been tossed around in regards to the proposed COVID-19 vaccine requirements. But what exactly is a religious accommodation and how do I provide one?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employer discrimination on the basis of religion, as well as requires employers to accommodate an employee’s “sincerely held religious belief or practice”, as long as the practice or belief does not pose undue hardships on the company.
How-to Process Religious Accommodation Requests
What is the religious accommodation process? It is slightly similar to the reasonable accommodation process for individuals with disabilities.
- Have the employee provide, in writing, the religious basis for their objection. Employees may have religious clerical leaders provide a written statement as well; however, employees should not be required to provide documentation from a clerical leader nor should the exclusion of a clerical letter be used to determine an employee’s religious belief is not sincere. Per the EEOC, “A religious practice may be sincerely held by an individual even if newly adopted, not consistently observed, or different from the commonly followed tenets of the individual’s religion.” (source: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation)
- If the written documentation clearly shows a religious reason for declining the vaccine, accept the request as valid. Determine if you can accommodate the request without undue hardship on the company.
- If the written documentation does not clearly show a religious reason for declining the vaccine, you will need to get further information through a conversation with the employee. This article (https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/vaccination-accommodation-is-that-religious-request-sincere.aspx) from SHRM suggests using the following thinking points to determine if the discussion exposed a religious reason for the accommodation request:
- “During the interview, did the employee continually veer off into the politics of COVID or vaccines?
- Does the employee’s real concern appear to be the safety of the vaccines?
- Does the employee’s real concern appear to be that mandatory vaccination is an infringement on his or her personal freedom?
- Does the employee seem to genuinely believe it would be a “sin” to get the vaccine?
- Can the employee reasonably articulate why he or she believes that vaccination would be sinful?
To determine whether the employee’s religious objection is “sincerely held,” ask:
- Is the objection consistent with what you or the employee’s supervisors have observed from this employee in the past, when COVID vaccination was not an issue?
- Are there any specific facts about this employee that cause you to believe that the religious belief is not sincere?””
Maintaining the Difference Between Philosphy, Personal Preferences and Religious Beliefs
It is important to note that “social, political, or economic philosophies, or personal preferences, are not religious beliefs under Title VII.” (source: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation)
If you have any questions or would like assistance with the religious accommodation process, contact the HRinDemand team.
Bailey Cummins, PHR, is a member of the HRinDemand team, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth.
Society for Human Resource Management. (2021, September 14). Viewpoint: Vaccination Accommodation—Is That Religious Request Sincere? https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/vaccination-accommodation-is-that-religious-request-sincere.aspx?
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2014, March 6). What You Should Know: Workplace Religious Accommodation. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation