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Employee Exemptions

Preserving your right to say NO. We have extensive experience in preparing, filing, and obtaining medical and religious exemptions to vaccination for employees. If you would like to retain our services, please fill out our intake form for a free consultation.

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.

Cost: Varies by situation. Initial evaluation free.
Availability: Depends, complete free intake to find out.

We’ve Obtained Hundreds Of Employee Exemptions

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.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to offer their employees medical or religious exemptions from vaccination, including for the COVID-19 vaccine.  We have obtained exemptions for employees across the country and have filed numerous related cases.

Your Employee & Student Vaccine Exemption Team

image of elizabeth brehm
Elizabeth Brehm
Partner
Location: New York
image of allison lucas
Allison R. Lucas
Partner
Location: Detroit
image of jessica wallace
Jessica Wallace
Attorney
Location: Miami
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Marc Dudley
Attorney
Location: New York
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