As COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers become more common, so do requests for exemptions. Requests for religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates have forced many employers to make difficult decisions regarding the validity of the accommodation requests as well as whether and how to reasonably accommodate legitimate requests — while also meeting the obligation to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Yesterday, the EEOC issued new guidance providing helpful insight regarding an employer’s obligation to grant requests for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) continued its clarity tour last week, publishing a final rule in the Federal Register regarding Executive Order 11246 and its religious exemption. The final rule explains the types of contractors that qualify for religious exemption and elucidates the latitude of such contractors to make employment-related decisions based on religion. The OFCCP maintains that its goal was to acknowledge case law permitting religious organizations to apply religious belief defenses to claims of alleged unlawful employment discrimination, but opponents believe the final rule impermissibly protects the free exercise of religion above protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.