October 22, 2021
As employers begin to implement their own vaccine mandates and prepare for compliance with the Biden administration’s mandates, many are facing thousands of employee exemption requests for religious or medical reasons. Seeking clarity on the challenges presented by such exemption requests and the related reasonable accommodation processes, HR Policy asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to issue new guidance on these and other issues.
Some employees may be exempt from vaccine mandates for sincerely held religious beliefs and/or medical reasons under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, determining the validity of such requests and undergoing the reasonable accommodation process for each valid exemption can create significant compliance issues.
Guidance implementing the vaccine mandate for federal contractors does not address the exemption process or articulate examples of reasonable accommodations, despite acknowledging that certain employees may be exempt under Title VII and the ADA. Further, the EEOC has not updated its guidance on the issue since January 2021, months prior to President Biden’s announcement of vaccine mandates for federal contractors and larger private sector employers, and even then the guidance left several open questions.
Our letter asks the EEOC to provide employers greater clarity on questions related to medical and religious exemptions from vaccine mandates and incentive programs and the associated reasonable accommodation process. Additionally, the letter asks for further guidance on privacy and recordkeeping concerns associated with the ADA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and other statutes that may be raised by compliance with federal vaccine mandates, including receipt and storage of employee vaccine records.
Outlook: With the compliance deadline looming for the federal contractor vaccine mandate and the issuance of an Emergency Temporary Standard requiring vaccine mandates for larger private sector employers imminent, it is essential that employers are provided with adequate guidance on the numerous legal and policy questions associated with compliance with such mandates. Guidance on religious and medical exemptions is particularly necessary, as employers face an increasing number of exemption requests. The Association is urging the EEOC to provide greater clarity in this area as soon as possible.