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EEOC Updates COVID Vaccine Guidance for Religious Objections

At the end of October 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance for employers to use in assessing religious objections to COVID-19 vaccination requirements.


Employees bear the initial burden of informing employers about their religious objection to vaccination based on “sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.” When requesting an exemption, the employees do not need to use any “magic words” including “religious accommodation” or “Title VII.” They do need to share that they have a conflict between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement.


Employers learning of an employee’s objection “should assume” that the request for religious accommodation is based on sincerely held religious beliefs. Where an employer has an “objective basis” for questioning the sincerity of the employee’s beliefs, the employer may make a “limited factual inquiry” and gather additional supporting information. Per the guidance, if the employee refuses to cooperate with a reasonable request, they may lose any subsequent claim based on that belief.

The guidance reminds employers that Title VII does protect nontraditional religious beliefs. It does not protect “social, political, or economic views, or personal preferences.” Factors that may undermine the sincerity of an employee’s religious beliefs include:

“whether the employee has acted in a manner inconsistent with the professed belief (although employees need not be scrupulous in their observance); whether the accommodation sought is a particularly desirable benefit that is likely to be sought for nonreligious reasons; whether the timing of the request renders it suspect (e.g., it follows an earlier request by the employee for the same benefit for secular reasons); and whether the employer otherwise has reason to believe the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons.”

Employers may not assume that an employee is insincere because some of the employee’s practices deviated from the tenets of their religion. Each situation must be evaluated individually, and employers must consider all possible reasonable accommodations. Employers may demonstrate undue hardship where they cannot reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious objections.