Am I My Brother's Keeper: Religious Accommodations And Vaccine Mandates Under Title VII

Published date27 October 2021
Subject MatterEmployment and HR, Coronavirus (COVID-19), Health & Safety, Employee Rights/ Labour Relations, Employment and Workforce Wellbeing
Law FirmDickinson Wright PLLC
AuthorMr Adrian Acosta

On September 26, 2021, the NBA denied Andrew Wiggins' religious accommodation request to be exempt from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. After being denied, Wiggins stated his "[b]ack is up against the wall, but I'm just going to keep fighting for what I believe. . . I'm going to keep fighting for what I believe is right. What's right to one person isn't right to the other person and vice versa." When pressed regarding what those actual beliefs entail, Wiggins responded, "It's none of your business, that's what it comes down to." See the story and some of Wiggins' quotes here. Wiggins eventually relented and got the vaccine. However, this incident started a storm of discussion from lawmakers regarding vaccine requirements. Senator Ted Cruz sent out a tweet stating:

The vaccine mandates in the NBA are similar to vaccine mandates by other employers, but, in response to any such mandates, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), employees who have sincerely held religious beliefs against a vaccination may request an accommodation. This article explores the interactive process that an employer and employee must engage in to decide whether the employer can or has to offer an employee a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate and, if so, what the accommodation looks like. Many other materials on this issue discuss this in terms of a "religious exemption," but that is not accurate. The proper term is an accommodation that may, in some instances, include the employee being excused or otherwise exempted from the vaccine mandate, among other accommodation options, such as unpaid leave, continued facial coverings, etc.

Courts limit certain types of inquiries employers can make from employees and are typically reluctant to scrutinize an individual's religious beliefs, not requiring that any belief in question be based upon an organized or recognized teaching of a particular sect. Even if formal religious affiliation were a requirement, the organized religions differ. For example, Pope Francis'the leader of the Catholic Church' tweeted the following support for COVID-19 vaccinations:

Additionally, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) have urged members to get the vaccine. And although church-going Catholics were "accepting" of the vaccines, approximately 23% of Catholics are not accepting. Furthermore, about 15% of Latter-day Saints identified as vaccine-hesitant, with 19%...

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