Among the numerous details to work out when crafting required vaccination policies is when an employee cites religious objections and requests an exemption. Recently, the 8/30/21 edition of starnewsonline.com published an article by John Staton that reports on the Wilmington Symphony’s decision to deny a musician’s religious exemption to their required vaccination policy.
The article includes the following statement about when an employer isn’t required to accommodate religious belief requests:
At any rate, by law employers don’t have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if they can show the accommodation would compromise workplace safety.
While there’s no reference, it’s likely referencing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) regulations on religious discrimination.
Disclaimer: What is a blog post about a legal topic without a disclaimer? This is not legal advice. You should not be getting your legal advice from a blog post. The purpose of this post is to give you things to think about before taking action. Speak to a lawyer about specifics.
The EEOC includes the following information about when employers do not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. I’ve highlighted the portions that appear to have made it into the Start News Online article.
Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation & Undue Hardship
An employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.
The EEOC issued updated and expanded technical assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic in May, 2021 that provides additional guidance on this exact issue.
Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations.
With the number of orchestras adopting policies that require staff and musicians to be vaccinated on the rise, it shouldn’t be unexpected to see a few more instances of religious exemption requests begin denied.