EEOC Updates Vaccine Religious Exemption Guidance

Companies can ask for more facts on a belief, and employees must comply or risk losing the right to sue over denied claim.

October 27, 2021

Bottles of the Coronavirus Vaccine

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Employees who are seeking religious exemptions from a mandated COVID-19 vaccination policy have to let their employer know they intend to seek a religious exemption, but they don’t have to say "magic words" such as "religious accommodation" or "Title VII" to activate their employer's legal obligations, reports Reuters.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its technical guidance on when companies must exempt employees from COVID-19 vaccine mandates for religious reasons. The EEOC said that companies should assume that workers' professed religious beliefs are sincere, but they can ask for more information from the employee in a limited manner. An employee who fails to provide requested information risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation, the EEOC said.

Last month, President Biden announced a sweeping vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, plus companies with more than 100 employees as part of a White House action plan to address the latest rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Many big companies have already set a vaccine mandate. IBM said its employees must be vaccinated by Dec. 8 despite how often they come into the office, or they’ll face unpaid suspension. 3M, Disney, Google, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble are some of the major companies who have required the vaccine.

Coca-Cola is also mandating its employees get inoculated, but it’s also offering a $2,000 one-time bonus to each fully vaccinated staffer as well as those who receive medical or religious exemptions by the government’s Dec. 8 deadline, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Coca-Cola is not allowing employees to receive weekly testing, which is an option Biden offers in his vaccine mandate.

American Airlines is requiring all employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 24. Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest also have mandated the vaccine for team members. However, some regional airlines that are contracted by larger airlines, such as United, American and Delta, have not mandated that employees receive the vaccine, even though tickets for these flights are sold under the larger airline’s name, reports CNBC.

Earlier this month, Biden said the mandate ruling can be expected "soon." The Labor Department on Oct. 12 submitted to the White House the initial text of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate ruling, reports Reuters.