How to get a religious exemption for the COVID vaccine at work?
Religion and politics are generally taboo subjects in the workplace. But these days, employers are increasingly asking questions about both when responding to requests for religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Such demands have piled up this fall despite religious leaders from various traditions supporting vaccination. Religious opponents of COVID-19 vaccines often express concern about the use of fetal cells in their development. Fetal cells are not present in the vaccines themselves.
âMy explanation was that ‘human life is sacred. The Bible tells you that your body is a temple. The vaccine is made from aborted fetuses. The mandate directly affects my religious beliefs. And that’s it, âsaid Brittany Watson, a nurse who has received a religious exemption from the health care system she works for in Virginia, to NPR.
While federal law provides some protections for religious freedom in the workplace, it does not require employers to approve every denominational accommodation request.
Business leaders can refuse requests that would constitute “undue hardship” on the company or other staff, legal expert Doug Laycock wrote for The conversation last month.
“The Supreme Court interpreted undue hardship to mean something other than minimal expense, which means employers don’t need as strong a reason” as what the government needs to deny freedom claims religious, he said.
Laycock believes that, in the current precedent, employers could successfully argue against offering religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine warrants. However, few business leaders have taken this approach, at least in part because it would violate political and business standards.
âMany employers and governments have been reluctant to challenge requests for religious exemptions,â Laycock wrote.
This reluctance helps explain why some employers approve all or almost all requests for religious exemptions from vaccination mandates. Before the pandemic, such an approach did not seem so risky, Laycock noted.
“When it comes to childhood disease vaccines, where the danger did not seem great or immediate, many groups just took people at their word if they say their religious views prevent vaccination,” he said. writing.
But today, as communities struggle to contain the spread of the delta variant and protect medically vulnerable people, including children, some companies are rethinking their past permissiveness. It is increasingly common for employers to ask follow-up questions about workers’ views on vaccines in the hope of determining whether their concerns are genuine and based on religious beliefs rather than political ones.
âEmployers can request additional information from the employee, such as asking if they are taking other drugs that also used fetal cells in their development, such as Tylenol or Motrin,â NPR reported.
This is one of the issues listed in a draft Coast Guard chaplain memo that was obtained by Deseret News last month. The document asked chaplains to learn more about military religious practices and beliefs during their meetings with those who have filed exemption requests.
“Note any comments made by the member that give the impression that they are using the religious exemption as a ruse to avoid the vaccine,” the document reads.
Sometimes workers bring a letter from a religious leader to their employer that describes their beliefs, although such proof is not required by labor law. The letters “can help reinforce claims that religious objections to the vaccine are sincere,” The New York Times reported.
In response to the growing interest in these letters, some churches and pastors have made them available for download on their website. âA freelance evangelist in Texas offers letters to those who request them. In California, a pastor of a mega-church offers a letter to anyone who checks a box “confirming that he is a practicing evangelical Christian, the article notes.
Faith-based organizations have also published guides to help workers answer questions about religious teachings and vaccines.
The increase in resources like these – along with the fact that no major religious tradition has spoken out against the COVID-19 vaccine – helps explain why many Americans are skeptical of requests for religious exemptions. Forty-six percent of American adults believe religious objectors should not be allowed to circumvent warrants, according to a June poll from Public Institute for Research on Religion.
Those frustrated by religious exemptions can take comfort in knowing that workers who receive them are rarely treated the same as their vaccinated peers. Companies often require these employees to work remotely or, if they must be in the office, to get tested regularly and wear a mask.
In general, business leaders try to find solutions that ensure that the worker “will not be a direct threat to others,” said Alana Genderson, lawyer specializing in labor and employment law at the firm. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, at NPR.