Austin | Charlotte | D.C. | Detroit | Los Angeles | Miami | New York | Phoenix

SUBSCRIBE

VACCINE EXEMPTION ATTORNEYS:

Employee Exemptions

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION
($150 Consultation Fee)

Warning: Each exemption must be individualized and general advice on this page may not be applicable to your situation. Please also note that using templates or form letters can often result in a denial. Some schools and employers use AI to identify exemption requests that contain copied language and use this as a basis to argue the exemption is not sincere.

Siri & Glimstad is the leading national firm assisting individuals with vaccine exemptions. Allison R. Lucas, Esq., the head of the vaccine exemption practice, is literally the author of the authoritative book on vaccine exemptions and has assisted hundreds of individuals in obtaining exemptions, including complex situations. If you are looking for sophisticated assistance to provide the greatest odds of securing an exemption, we look forward to assisting you.

image of a warehouse worker in orange vest

Individualized Assistance with Obtaining an Employee Exemption

Typically the most efficient and economical avenue to avoid a vaccine mandate is to obtain a religious or medical exemption. Our attorneys have helped hundreds of individuals obtain a vaccine exemption. For religious exemptions, note that religion is defined broadly under applicable law, so you do not need to belong to any specific religion. Your religion does not have to be opposed to vaccination because it is the personal religious belief that matters. If you are seeking an exemption you can retain us for individualized assistance.

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

CONTACT US

We’ve Obtained Hundreds Of Employee Exemptions

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

CONTACT US

Religious Exemptions To Vaccines FAQ

What constitutes a religious belief?

Short AnswerCivil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) broadly defines “[t]he term ‘religion’ [as] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that [it] is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).

Long Answer: Title VII requires employers to accommodate only those religious beliefs that are “sincerely held.” Seeger, 380 U.S. at 185. However, the Court stated in U.S. v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965) and has continued to reiterate that no court should inquire into the validity or plausibility of the beliefs; instead, the task of a court is “to decide whether the beliefs professed are sincerely held and whether they are, in [the believer’s] own scheme of things, religious.” Id. at 185. The religious belief need not be “correct” or even “plausible.” It is unlawful for the employer to question the correctness of a sincerely held religious belief. Furthermore, Title VII protects a sincerely held religious belief even if the employee’s spiritual advisor (such as a pastor) or the affiliated religious sect (such as Protestant) disagrees. Emp’t Div., Dep’t of Human Res. of Or. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 887 (1990); U.S. E.E.O.C. v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (2017).

What constitutes a valid religious belief?

Short Answer:  It is unlawful for an employer to question the accuracy of a sincerely held religious belief.  Hence, most any belief is valid under Title VII.  The biggest hurdle in securing a religious accommodation pursuant to Title VII is not whether the belief is correct, but whether it is sincerely held.

Long Answer:  Title VII requires employers to accommodate only those religious beliefs that are “sincerely held.” Seeger, 380 U.S. at 185.  However, the Court stated in Seeger and has continued to reiterate that no court should inquire into the validity or plausibility of the beliefs; instead, the task of a court is “to decide whether the beliefs professed are sincerely held and whether they are, in [the believer’s] own scheme of things, religious.” Id. at 185.  The religious belief need not be “correct” or even “plausible.” It is unlawful for the employer to questions the correctness of a sincerely held religious belief.  Furthermore, Title VII protects a sincerely held religious belief even if the employee’s spiritual advisor (such as a pastor) or the affiliated religious sect (such as Protestant) disagrees with it.  Emp’t Div., Dep’t of Human Res. of Or. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 887 (1990); U.S. E.E.O.C. v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (2017).

Can the employer inquire into the sincerity of the employee’s belief?

Short Answer:  Yes but in a very limited manner.  When an employer has a genuine uncertainty about the basis for the employee’s accommodation request, it is permitted to make a limited inquiry to determine if the belief or practice is religious and sincerely held and gives rise to the need for accommodation.

Long Answer:  Typically, an employer has no reason to question whether the practice at issue is religious or sincerely held.  However, when an employer has a genuine doubt about the basis for the employee’s accommodation request, it is permitted to make a limited inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the employee’s claim that the belief or practice at issue is religious and sincerely held and gives rise to the need for accommodation.

The EEOC’s Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace lists factors that might weaken an employee’s claim that he or she sincerely holds the religious belief at issue as:

  1. whether the employee has behaved in a manner markedly inconsistent with the professed belief;
  1. whether the accommodation sought is a particularly desirable benefit that is likely to be sought for secular reasons;
  1. 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
  1. whether the employer otherwise has reason to believe the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons.

The issue of “sincerely held” is a totality-of-the-circumstances assessment.  Therefore, none of the above-listed factors are dispositive of the issue of sincerity.  For example, although prior inconsistent conduct is relevant, an individual’s beliefs and degree of adherence may evolve.  Thus, a requestor’s newly adopted or inconsistently followed religious practices can qualify as “sincerely held” under Title VII. EEOC v. Ilona of Hungary, Inc., 108 F.3d 1569 (7th Cir. 1997). Furthermore, “an employer [] should not assume that an employee is insincere simply because some of his or her practices deviate from the commonly followed tenets of [the] religion.” Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace. See also, Commission Guidelines, 29 C.F.R. § 1605.1.

If an employer makes a reasonable request for information regarding the need for accommodation, a requestor should respond.  An employee who refuses to cooperate with an employer’s requests for valid information may deprive the employer of the information necessary to resolve the accommodation request and potentially forfeit the requested accommodation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers overstepped by questioning the sincerity of their employees’ religious beliefs and practices, a practice that many courts surprisingly condoned. This created new case law that provides employers more leniency in questioning the sincerity of the employee’s beliefs.

In addition, in 2023, in Groff v. DeJoy, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the meaning of “undue hardship” in the context of accommodating religious beliefs in the workplace. This clarified definition significantly raises the bar for employers to deny a request based on “undue hardship.” The natural consequence of this shift in the legal landscape is that employers will focus more heavily on scrutinizing the sincerity of the employer’s beliefs as a basis for denying the request rather than denying it based on undue hardship. Thus, an employee seeking religious accommodation should plan for this by submitting a robust and comprehensive statement to support the request.

What constitutes notice of a need for an accommodation?

Short Answer:  A person requiring a religious accommodation must give the employer notice of the need.  No magic language is required to put the employer on notice.  However, the requestor must inform the employee that an accommodation is needed because a conflict exists between religion and work.

Long Answer:  The requestor does not need to use specific language, mention Title VII, or use the words “religious accommodation” to request a religious accommodation. However, an applicant or employee seeking a religious accommodation must make the employer aware that (1) accommodation is needed, and (2) the employee requests accommodation due to a conflict between religion and work.

The requestor must also explain the belief or practice’s religious nature and not assume that the employer will already know or understand it. Seshadri v. Kasraian, 130 F.3d 798, 800 (7th Cir. 1997); Chrysler Corp. v. Mann, 561 F.2d 1282, 1285 (8th Cir. 1977); Redmond v. GAF Corp., 574 F.2d 897, 902 (7th Cir. 1978).  For example, courts have ruled against employees who refused to cooperate with an employer’s requests for reasonable information when, as a result, the employer was deprived of the information necessary to resolve the accommodation request. Macon v. J.C. Penney Co., 17 F. Supp. 3d 695 (N.D. Ohio 2014).

On the other hand, the employer should not assume that a request is invalid because the associated religious beliefs or practices are unfamiliar.  Instead, the employer should, in limited fashion, request that the employee explain the practice’s religious nature and how it conflicts with a work requirement.

What constitutes reasonable accommodation?

Short Answer:  A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to comply with the religious belief but that does not cause undue hardship for the employer.

Long Answer: Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)) requires employers to adhere to certain employment standards and makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge an individual based upon that person’s religious beliefs or practices. Once an employer is on notice that a religious accommodation is needed, Title VII requires that the employer “make reasonable accommodation for the religious observances of its employees, short of incurring an undue hardship.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). Title VII requires only reasonable accommodation, not “satisfaction of an employee’s every desire.” Rodriguez v. City of Chicago, 156 F.3d 771, 776 (7th Cir. 1998).

The accommodation requirement is “plainly intended to relieve individuals of the burden of choosing between their jobs and their religious convictions, where such relief will not unduly burden others.” Protos v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 797 F.2d 129, 136 (3d Cir. 1986). A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to comply with the religious belief. An employer violates the “reasonable accommodation” duty where an employee can prove (1) a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement, (2) notice to the employer of this belief, and (3) discipline for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. EEOC v. Firestone Fibers, 515 F.3d 307, 312 (2008).

However, an employer may have an “undue hardship” defense for failing to provide accommodation. This defense requires a showing that accommodation in a particular case poses a substantial increase to cost to an employer. Groff v. DeJoy, 143 S. Ct. 2279, 2295 (2023).

Finally, an employer violates an employee’s religious rights if it provides more favorable accommodation to other employees for non-religious purposes. For example, in the case of Memorial Hospital, the lawsuit alleged it treated the employee’s request for religious accommodation to wear a mask rather than receive a flu vaccine differently than the same request made by employees for medical, rather than religious, reasons. EEOC v. Memorial Healthcare, No. 2:18-cv-10523 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 13, 2018). Therefore, if an employer can provide medical accommodation to a mandatory vaccination without undue hardship, it can likely make similar accommodations for religious exemptions.

Must I provide support from a spiritual advisor such as a pastor or priest?

Short Answer:   No.

Long Answer:  Religious beliefs can be unique to an individual; thus, evidence from others is not always necessary. However, letters of support from a spiritual advisor may help bolster the “sincerely held” element, expedite the requested accommodation, and eliminate the employer’s justification in conducting an inquiry. Furthermore, courts have ruled against employees who refused to cooperate with an employer’s requests for reasonable information when, as a result, the employer was deprived of the information necessary to resolve the accommodation request. Macon v. J.C. Penney Co., 17 F. Supp. 3d 695 (N.D. Ohio 2014).

Am I entitled to compensation if I am harmed by a mandated vaccine?

Short Answer:  Maybe.

Long Answer: Regarding EUA COVID-19 vaccines, workers’ compensation cases have not been tested in courts. Workers’ compensation liability will evolve as COVID-19 cases are litigated and as state lawmakers define COVID-19-specific rules in the context of workers’ compensation claims.

Aside from workers’ compensation, can I get compensation for harm caused by a mandated vaccine?

Short Answer:  Maybe.

Long Answer:  The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (the “VICP”) is a federal program developed in the 1980s to compensate people with specific reactions and injuries caused by certain vaccinations. The VICP compensates for pain and suffering,  past and future lost wages, and medical expenses.  However, only about 33% of VICP claims receive compensation.  Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are not compensated through the VICP.

Workers’ compensation benefits typically pay around 2/3 of the employee’s actual lost wages.  A person receiving workers’ compensation cannot “double-dip” and receive full compensation from the VICP.  However, the person can seek the difference between the workers’ compensation benefit and the actual lost wages from the VICP.  If the person incurred costs for treatment of the vaccine injury, the VICP will reimburse the costs. The VICP will only reimburse the portion paid, or due to be paid, by the injured person. The VICP does not reimburse any amount paid by insurance companies or Medicaid.

Regarding emergency use COVID-19 vaccines, the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (the “PREP Act”) may provide immunity from certain types of liability arising from the administration of vaccines to “covered persons” under the Act. In addition, this immunity may extend to certain private-sector employers as specified under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ advisory guidance.  Consequently, an employer providing a COVID-19 vaccine onsite may be immune from claims of injury or loss arising from the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, except in instances of “willful misconduct.”

The PREP Act also provides a compensation program, the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (the “CICP”), to eligible individuals who suffer serious injury from one of the protected countermeasures, which currently includes emergency use COVID-19 vaccines.

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

CONTACT US

Medical Exemptions To Vaccines FAQ

What is a valid medical vaccine exemption?

Generally, a valid medical exemption for employment is one that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means it is written by a treating healthcare professional and describes a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or a record of such an impairment (i.e., a person may have a history of cancer or asthma, but it is in remission). Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. The exemption must also explain why the protected condition makes receiving the vaccine or vaccines at issue more of a risk than a benefit.

Can an employer deny a vaccine exemption if it doesn’t meet the CDC’s definition of contraindication or precaution?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute that provides significant protection to employees. It requires employers to accommodate employees who meet the legal requirements of this act, assuming that the employer can do so without undue hardship. The ADA’s definition of “disability” is written very broadly, and the purpose and intent of the ADA and the case law involving the ADA do not support that an employer can limit the protection of the ADA to such narrow confines. However, the employer can deny the medical exemption if the language used does not otherwise meet the requirements of the ADA.

RESOURCE: CDC’s Definition of Contraindication or Precaution

What law governs vaccine exemptions?

In employment, vaccine exemptions are generally regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and any similar state or city law. The ADA may not apply to a private religious institution, but there are instances when the institution voluntarily adheres to it. Whether a state or city disability rights law applies depends on how the statute is written and whether it covers the facts and circumstances of any one case.

What if my healthcare provider will not write an exemption for me?

Sometimes, a healthcare provider will not write a vaccine exemption, even if they believe vaccination is unsafe for their patient, simply because they don’t know how or what conditions legally qualify. Siri & Glimstad attorneys often work with clients and physicians to develop lawfully sound language based on the client’s medical history and diagnosis.

What if my employer refuses to accept a request for a medical exemption?

Most employers are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and, therefore, must accept an employee’s application for a medical vaccine exemption. However, the employer can deny the request if it doesn’t meet the law’s requirements or if the employer can prove that providing the exemption poses an undue hardship.

My employer denied my request for a medical exemption based on “undue hardship.” What does that mean?

Regarding a vaccine exemption, an undue hardship usually means that the employer alleges that permitting an unvaccinated employee in the workplace poses a risk of harm to others. However, the employee will often have arguments to overcome the employer’s position. For example, if the vaccine or vaccines at issue don’t prevent transmission or infection, the employer’s arguments regarding undue hardship aren’t compelling. Siri & Glimstad managing partner Aaron Siri has several Substack articles regarding whether certain vaccines prevent infection or transmission of their targeted pathogen.

Can you summarize the requirements for a medical exemption?

Medical exemptions are also complicated and nuanced, and a full review of the law for medical vaccine exemptions is beyond the scope of this FAQ. However, the basics of a medical exemption are as follows:

  • Medical exemptions are based on a health provider-diagnosed medical condition, impairment, disability, condition, or history of the same. Examples include anaphylactic allergies, diabetes, neurological conditions, depression, arthritis, genetic conditions, previous adverse vaccine reactions, eye conditions, and asthma.
  • A healthcare provider writes a medical exemption (but the patient can propose language for the medical professional to use).
  • The language in a medical exemption should follow the language used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its vaccine contraindications and precaution guidance and the language found in the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, strict adherence to the CDC’s contraindications and precautions table isn’t necessarily required.
  • The ADA and the state law equivalent govern medical exemptions. The ADA is a federal statute that applies to private and public institutions (but not necessarily private religious institutions).
  • The ADA’s definition of “disability” is very broad, so many people are surprised to learn that they likely qualify for ADA protection and may be eligible for a medical vaccine exemption.
  • Medical exemptions must be very specific and clearly connect the student’s medical condition with the need to avoid the required vaccine(s). Most physicians aren’t familiar with writing a legally sufficient vaccine exemption, so working with a knowledgeable attorney regarding the required language is helpful.

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

CONTACT US

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to offer their employees religious exemptions from vaccination. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires employers to offer their employees medical exemptions from vaccination. We have obtained exemptions for employees across the country and have filed numerous related cases.

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

image of allison r lucas
Meet Allison R. Lucas,
Head of Vaccine Exemptions

CONTACT US

Your Vaccine Exemption Team

image of allison lucas
Allison R. Lucas
Partner
Location: Michigan
image of walker moller
Walker Moller
Partner
Location: Texas
image of christina xenides
Christina Xenides
Partner
Location: Texas
image of catherine cline
Catherine Cline
Attorney
Location: Florida
image of wendy cox
Wendy Cox
Attorney
Location: Texas
image of marc dudley
Marc Dudley
Attorney
Location: New York
image of gina mannella
Gina Mannella
Paralegal
Location: New York

Contact Us

BOOK 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION HERE
($150 Consultation Fee)

0
1
1
4
0