COVID-19: Religious Accommodations Blog

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), employees have a right to request an accommodation for a “sincerely held” religious belief. Employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for workers who have “sincerely held” religious beliefs, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. To respond to an employee’s request for a religious accommodation, HR Partners recommends the following steps:

  1. Determine whether the employee’s objection to mandatory vaccine policies or mandates is based on a “sincerely held” religious belief.

Personal, political, or philosophical beliefs do not qualify for a religious accommodation under Title VII. To determine whether an employee has a “sincerely held” religious belief, employers are entitled to make a limited inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the employee’s claim that the belief or practice is religious and “sincerely held”, and gives rise to the need for an accommodation. 

The EEOC, in its technical assistance document entitled, “Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace”, provides guidance for employers as to what constitutes a limited inquiry as follows:

"Factors that – either alone or in combination – might undermine an employee's assertion that he sincerely holds the religious belief at issue include: whether the employee has behaved in a manner markedly inconsistent with the professed belief; whether the accommodation sought is a particularly desirable benefit that is likely to be sought for secular reasons; whether the timing of the request renders it suspect (e.g., it follows an earlier request by the employee for the same benefit for secular reasons); and whether the employer otherwise has reason to believe the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons." 

  1. Engage in the interactive process.

If the employee’s religious belief is determined to be sincere, the employer should engage in a dialogue with the employee to determine what reasonable accommodation(s), if any, are available. The best practice is to have the employee fill out a written request for an accommodation.

  1. Determine whether an accommodation is available.

The employer must take into consideration the requested accommodation, but ultimately, the employer determines the reasonable accommodation. In some cases, providing an accommodation may be an undue hardship on the employer. An undue hardship must be more than “de minimis” cost or burden on the operation of the employer’s business. Whether or not an accommodation is provided, the employer should provide the employee with a written response regarding the determination. If an accommodation is provided, employers may revisit accommodation requests and adjust as necessary.

If you have questions regarding COVID-19 religious accommodations, or other HR needs, please call HR Partners at 785-233-7860.

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