An Employee Who Wanted Religious Exception For The COVID-19 Vaccine Got Called On It. Guess What Happened Next?

I'll bet nowhere on your HR job description is there anything about serving as the religion police.
United States Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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I'll bet nowhere on your HR job description is there anything about serving as the religion police.

But during the pandemic, some companies were pretty persnickety when considering employee requests for accommodations from getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Companies that applied heightened scrutiny did so at their own risk.

In its COVID-19 guidance, the EEOC acknowledged that employers do not have to accept an employee's assertion of a religious objection to a COVID-19 vaccination at face value. But, employers "should not assume that a request is invalid simply because it is based on unfamiliar religious beliefs, practices, or observances."

I don't know about you, but I came across some employees out there who I thought were slingin' some real bulls**t. While the path of least resistance was to focus on the accommodation rather than the sincerity of the individual's beliefs, last night, I read about an employer that wouldn't go there.

The plaintiff refused to get a COVID-19 vaccination, a "biblical evil," because he broadly objected to the ingestion of artificial or man-made substances or substances developed using fetal cells.

But wouldn't you know it? The plaintiff conceded that he regularly took medications that he viewed as medically necessary despite knowing that they were artificial and man-made. He had no credible evidence of any mRNA vaccines containing fetal cells. He also took medications and received other vaccinations without questioning whether fetal cells were used at any stage during their development.

So not only wasn't the defendant buying what the plaintiff was selling, but neither did the judge:

In the end, the court is left with the idiosyncratic assertion that [the plaintiff] objects only to the ingestion of certain man-made substances and certain medical products developed using fetal cells – ones which he, in his discretion, finds medically unnecessary or unsafe. No reasonable juror could plausibly find this belief "religious." It does not address the type of "fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters" typically found to accompany a religious belief. Nor can it reasonably be said to encompass some larger "moral or ethical belief as to what is right and wrong." At best, it reflects a personal medical judgment about the necessity of COVID19 vaccination rigged out with religious verbiage. The court accordingly enters judgment in favor of [the defendant].

Folks, these situations are the exception to the rule. Rather than focus on the sincerity of an employee's stated religious beliefs, practices, or observances, primarily a matter of individual credibility, employers should determine whether a religious accommodation exists that will not create undue hardship on the business.

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