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Vaccination and Mask Mandate Q&A: Religious Exemptions

Vaccination and Mask Mandate Q&A: Religious Exemptions
Posted on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Bruce Gillis

With vaccination mandates on everyone’s mind, a new issue is popping up across organizations, religious exemptions for new vaccination requirements.


This is a touchy issue, there’s no getting around it. In Washington D.C. more than 400 fire and emergency medical workers applied for religious exemptions to the city’s vaccine mandate. In LA, roughly a quarter of the police department is expected to seek religious exemptions.

What are employers required to oblige when it comes to religious exemptions?


Basically, the right to request a religious exemption stem from the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of religion. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions says employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers who have sincerely held religious beliefs—unless doing so poses an undue hardship.

And although this is a difficult topic and situation to navigate, there are many strategies out there that organizations are trying like:

  1. Unpaid leave – United Airlines employees who receive religious exemptions from the company for COVID-19 vaccinations will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave.
  2. Testing requirements – Some organizations are requiring weekly COVID-19 testing for those that have a religious exemption.
  3. Work from home policies – Other organizations are opting to have unvaccinated employees work from home. An option not available for all industries.

While some are taking more hardline approaches to exemptions based, in part, on the demands of their industry, others are allowing for weekly testing or working from home. These accommodations may introduce additional costs, as weekly testing can add financial burdens, or not be options for certain roles and organizations. And it’s important to note that employers have the right to probe or ask qualifying questions to determine if an employee’s religious beliefs are sincere; although it is important to tread carefully into such discussions.

Based on these answers, employers can deny or approve the request. If the request is approved, the employer can then decide what a reasonable accommodation will be, not the employee.

Hence the stickiness.

If you want to hear more about mask mandates, vaccination mandates, and religious exemptions, please listen to our most recent Brews with Bruce episodes with our good friend, Ben Conley, Partner at Seyfarth Shaw.


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Bruce Gillis Head of Compliance Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. View All Posts