Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccines

Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccines

As employers are implementing, considering implementing, or being compelled to implement a coronavirus vaccine program, the question of religious accommodation is surely surfacing.

As a reminder, the EEOC has issued guidance providing that an employer can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine as long as certain conditions are met. One such condition is that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees objecting to the vaccine mandate due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief. See our previous Benefit Beat article, EEOC Speaks: Can Vaccine be Mandatory? (cbiz.com).

In its guidance, What You Should Know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws (eeoc.gov), the EEOC has dedicated a new section (Section L) to religious objections to COVID- 19 vaccine mandates. So what should an employer do?

Step 1: The employee initiates the request.

The guidance clarifies that it is the individual employee’s responsibility to notify the employer of a religious objection and/or request for accommodation. As a best practice, employers can provide individuals with information about the (1) availability of and (2) process to request a religious or disability accommodation.

Q: Must the employee use any particular or specific language while making the request?

A: No.

Step 2: The employer must (generally) assume the sincerity of the religious belief.

The employer should assume the sincerity of the employee’s asserted religious belief. Note, under Title VII, the request for accommodation must be based on a religious belief – not on a personal preference or social, political, or economic view.

Q: What if the employer believes or has reason to believe the employee’s request is not based on a religious belief?

A: If the employer has an objective basis for questioning the nature or sincerity of the employee’s asserted religious belief, the employer can seek additional information from the employee through a limited factual inquiry. See question L.2. in the EEOC’s guidance for a list of objective factors that may point to the nature and sincerity of an employee’s asserted religious belief.

Step 3: Providing the accommodation

The employer should undergo an interactive process with the employee to explore and consider all reasonable accommodation options. The EEOC has more specific guidance available at What You Should Know: Workplace Religious Accommodation (eeoc.gov).

Q: Must the employer provide the specific accommodation requested by the employee?

A: No. If there is more than one reasonable accommodation available that would resolve the conflict between the vaccine mandate and the religious belief, the employer is not obligated to provide the specific accommodation requested by the employee. However, if the employer grants an accommodation that is not the employee’s preferred accommodation, the employer must provide the employee with an explanation as to why the preferred accommodation was not granted.

Q: Must the employer provide an accommodation to every employee who requests it?

A: No. While an employer may encounter more than one employee requesting an accommodation based on a religious objection, the employer is not required to provide accommodation to every employee’s request. Each request must be considered in its specific factual context.

Step 4: Exceptions to Accommodation (Undue Hardship)

Under Title VII, the employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee if the employer demonstrates that doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. See question L.3. in the EEOC’s guidance for a list of objective factors that may point to an undue hardship. Employers may rely on CDC recommendations when deciding whether an effective accommodation is available that would not pose an undue hardship.

Step 5: Terminating the Accommodation

The employer can discontinue the accommodation if the accommodation:

  • Is no longer utilized for religious purposes;
  • Becomes an undue hardship on the employer due to changed circumstances.

Before terminating the accommodation, the employer should communicate with the employee and determine whether an accommodation is still required, and whether there are other accommodation options.

Additional Resources

EEOC’s detailed guidance on religious discrimination and accommodation issues. Section 12: Religious Discrimination (eeoc.gov).

EEOC’s own internal accommodation request form. EEOC Religious Accommodation Request Form - Final.pdf (for use by EEOC employee’s only). Employers can model their own forms with similar language, customizing the form as necessary.


The information contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended to be legal, accounting, or other professional advice, nor are these comments directed to specific situations. This information is provided as general guidance and may be affected by changes in law or regulation. This information is not intended to replace or substitute for accounting or other professional advice. You must consult your own attorney or tax advisor for assistance in specific situations. This information is provided as-is, with no warranties of any kind. CBIZ shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever in connection with its use and assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any changes in laws or other factors that could affect the information contained herein.

Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccineshttps://www.cbiz.com/Portals/0/Images/COVID Exemptions.jpg?ver=9eoahcFkdZD-6g93-gwyQw%3d%3dAs employers are implementing, considering implementing, or being compelled to implement a coronavirus vaccine program, the question of religious accommodation is surely surfacing.2021-11-07T20:00:00-05:00

As employers are implementing, considering implementing, or being compelled to implement a coronavirus vaccine program, the question of religious accommodation is surely surfacing.

Regulatory, Compliance, & LegislativeEmployee Benefits ComplianceNo