Thinking of claiming a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine? It’s not always easy

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Claiming a religious exemption to skip out on a work-required COVID-19 vaccine isn’t always easy.

It all takes root in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law essentially requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who can’t fulfill a job requirement due to religious beliefs.

“I don’t believe the 1964 Civil Rights Act wanted employers to end up being the judge of religious exemptions but that’s what the law of the land is,” said Don Vaughan, an attorney, Wake Forest University law professor, and former North Carolina state senator.

What can complicate matters is that the law doesn’t give a lot of guidance when it comes to defining religion.

“Because the president has mandated over 100 million folks to get the vaccine, you’re going to see many folks that want to use this as a loophole,” Vaughan said.

There is no standardized federal or state form for companies to use. Vaughan said an employer has every right to ask for specifics.

“They can want a letter from your pastor, priest, religious representative. They want any writings that you may have had in the area or the background where you got this belief,” he said.

If what you provide is falsified, then you can face potential disciplinary action including termination.

The Civil Rights Act also says an employer doesn’t have to accept a religious exemption if it can prove the company will suffer because of it.

The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he 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.

Vaughan said employers across the country are working with their attorneys, and most are asking the same questions.

“Whether to press the vaccination, fire the employee for making a misstatement here,” Vaughn said. “Very, very tough area of the law we haven’t see the last of yet. Now, this is going to be quite a burden on employers. I know they’re going to be scrambling for their lawyers to find out what all this means. There’s no particular cases that have come down from any court right now”

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