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EEOC Issues Updated Guidance on Religious Accommodations and COVID-19

On March 1, the EEOC issued another update to its’ guidance on COVID-19, titled, What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws. The updates apply to frequently asked questions (FAQs) under Section L which focus on assisting employers, employees and applicants with navigating vaccine-related religious accommodation requests.

One of the most notable updates to the guidance is related to offering unpaid leave as an accommodation. The EEOC explains, “an employer’s proposed accommodation will not be ‘reasonable’ if the accommodation requires the employee to accept a reduction in pay or some other loss of a benefit or privilege of employment (for example, if unpaid leave is the employer’s proposed accommodation) and there is a reasonable alternative accommodation that does not require leave and would not impose undue hardship on the employer’s business.”

The updated guidance also dives deeper into the following questions:

  • 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?

If an employer shows that it cannot reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, practices or observances without undue hardship on its operations, then they are not required to grant the accommodation.

Next Steps for Employers

It is recommended that employers review the updated guidance as it may assist with addressing how to approach requests for religious exemptions due to vaccine mandates. Employers should consider this guidance before placing religious vaccine objectors on unpaid leave. Employers should also be mindful of any applicable state laws related to religious accommodations. Where federal and state law differs, employers should adhere to that which provides the greatest benefit for the employee.

How HR Works Can Help

Current HR Works clients can reach out to their HR Strategic Partner or the Virtual Helpline to request a Religious Accommodation Request Form and additional materials and guidance related to accommodations.

HR Works, Inc., headquartered at 200 WillowBrook Office Park in Fairport (Rochester), New York, with an office in East Syracuse, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.