On September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his plan for private-sector businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate that their workers be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The soon-to-be-implemented federal mandate will be dictated by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The regulation will give workers paid time off to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects of getting vaccinated. Notably, employers that don’t comply with the vaccine mandate or paid-time-off requirement can face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
In my legal practice I routinely counsel employees on the legal landscape of vaccination mandates—particularly how to submit religious accommodation requests that aim to keep the employee working and legally refuse vaccination. Under Title VII, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s “sincerely held” religious belief, observance, or practice. The law has always been interpreted by courts as one that promotes the free exercise of religion and promotes employee rights. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cautions that an employer should generally assume that an employee’s request for a religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief.
Where an employer typically attacks a religious accommodation request is by arguing that the accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s legitimate business interests. An “undue hardship” exists as a matter of law where an employer is required to bear more than a de minimis cost. EEOC Guidance establishes that an employer can consider these factors in denying a religious accommodation: (a) the accommodation is too costly; (b) it would decrease workplace efficiency; (c) the accommodation infringes on the rights of other employees; (d) the accommodation requires other employees to do more than their share of hazardous or burdensome work; (e) the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation; or (f) the accommodation compromises workplace safety.
If you would like an employment law attorney to assist you with drafting a religious accommodation request or represent you in the event you are terminated for refusing vaccination, please contact me!