There’s a new controversy on the rise as we navigate our way through the ongoing pandemic. As more employers are requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccination, requests for religious exemptions have increased. According to an AP news article, an estimated 2,600 Los Angeles Police Department employees are citing religious objections in an attempt to get out of the required COVID-19 vaccination. In the state of Washington, thousands of state workers are seeking similar exemptions.
In Rocklin, California, a controversial pastor is offering religious exemptions to people who do not want to get the COVID vaccine. In a social media post, Pastor Greg Farrington said he’s been approached by “hundreds” of people who feel “morally compromised” by mandatory vaccination requirements. According to Farrington, Destiny Church is pro-freedom, not anti-vaccine. “Our nation was founded on freedom of religion. People have the right to choose if they feel morally compromised,” said Farrington.
It seems religious objections, once used sparingly around the country for some vaccine exemptions, are becoming a loophole against the COVID-19 shot. Following President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate, the administration is acknowledging that a small minority of Americans will use, and may even exploit in his opinion, religious exemptions.
The protections for religious objectors are in California law, the U.S. Constitution and federal law. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires private companies to make “reasonable accommodations” for workers who have “sincerely held” religious beliefs that prevent them from complying with a particular workplace policy, such as the requirement that workers get vaccinated.
So by law, an employer can not dismiss a request for religious exemption. They are required to follow a process that involves a conversation about the nature of the request, and if accommodations are a reasonable option. Here a few things both employers and employees must consider:
- Determine if the employer is a covered employer under federal or state law. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
- Make sure a clear policy has been outlined by the employer in regard to vaccine requirements and accommodations. The policy distributed to employees should reference religious exemptions and how the employer intends to provide exceptions to mandatory vaccines.
- Outline how the employee should submit their request, and what documentation is required.
- Start the process. The employer needs to engage in an interactive process designed to understand the employee’s request for accommodation and the basis for such.
- Review. Determine if the employee has a sincerely held religious belief. Title VII requires employers to accommodate only those religious beliefs that are “sincerely held.”
- Notify the employee of your decision. HR must notify the employee in writing that his or her request has been approved or denied. If the request is denied, the employer should communicate and document any available alternative accommodations.
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Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues.
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Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California dispute resolution company. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct conduct cases, along with hazing and bullying cases in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities; fire, police and other public safety agencies and departments; and other private and public sector workplaces.
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This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.
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