Screening News Update: Religious Exemptions Taking Center Stage for Employers

Screening News Update: Religious Exemptions Taking Center Stage for Employers

By Jennifer Gladstone

Employers Struggling to Manage Religious Exemption Requests

Today, we are going to talk specifically about what is going on around the country with regards to religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. Demands for such exemptions have put some employers in a really tough spot.

By now, you’ve probably heard several stories of people walking off the job because they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons. In the past, asking about religion in the workplace was taboo, but the question of exemptions is causing companies to change. In many cases, that means getting tough on these growing requests.

Disney, for example, is requiring those seeking an exemption to fill out a form that requires documentation of medical issues that might prevent someone from getting vaccinated. The form also says the company has the right to ask you specific questions about your religious beliefs and how you practice, before granting any religious accommodation. 

General Electric and Amtrak employees are being asked to fill out a questionnaire that covers, not only religious beliefs, but asks if they have tattoos or piercings, and whether they eat foods with preservatives. The forms also ask about specific medications the employee – and their family – take, everything from Tylenol to Tums, Benadryl, and even other vaccines they received in the past. The reason for this question is to allegedly debunk a religious exemption based on the argument that the COVID-19 vaccine was produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses. Essentially, the employer is saying if you don’t have any issue with these medications, which were created with the cell lines, you shouldn’t have an issue with the vaccine.

Some employers are also pointing to fact sheets from the Charlotte Lozier Institute that show that only two vaccines actually used the cell lines – AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. The most commonly administered vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, did not. 

The State of New York is doing a complete 180 on the issue. Nearly 16,000 health care workers have already been granted religious exemptions, but on October 29th, a federal appeals panel upheld the vaccine mandate for all health care workers. The panel also rejected the argument that the mandate does not adequately protect those with religious objections. An appeal for the U.S. Supreme Court is already being drafted, and there is no word on how the state plans to deal with those who have already been granted an exemption. 

So, how far can employers go when it comes to questioning whether these “religious” beliefs are based on faith, or just a way to escape getting the vaccine? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on religion, but employers are allowed to ask questions to determine if someone is really seeking the exemption based on faith or if they are social, political or economic views – which are not protected.

If you need more information, be sure to check out the links in the blog for this video. 

About the Author

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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