EEOC Updates Technical Assistance for COVID-19 Guidance

You may be asking “Wait, did ReedGroup accidentally re-print an old blog?” Nope, but you are welcome to re-read our “EEOC Updates Technical Assistance for COVID-19 Guidance” from June.

Our friendly neighborhood compliance pals at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continue to provide solid reading materials when navigating COVID-19 in the workplace.

The new set of Technical Assistance found here has some key points of interest. These are particularly hot topics, as they relate to issues such as vaccination requirements for those who are pregnant, whether information obtained could disclose the existence of a disability, and the ever-confusing discussion around religious exemption.

Since you won’t have time to sit with a beverage and digest all of this until later, here are a few snippets.

K.9 When an employer asks employees whether they obtained a COVID-19 vaccination, the employer is not asking the employee a question that is likely to disclose the existence of a disability; there are many reasons an employee may not show documentation or other confirmation of vaccination besides having a disability.  Therefore, requesting documentation or other confirmation of vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry under the ADA, and the ADA’s rules about making such inquiries do not apply.

K.13 CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or planning to become pregnant in the future.  Despite these recommendations, some pregnant employees may seek job adjustments or may request exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

If an employee seeks an exemption from a vaccination requirement due to pregnancy, the employer must ensure that the employee is not being discriminated against compared to other employees similar in their ability or inability to work.  This means that a pregnant employee may be entitled to job modifications, including telework, changes to work schedules or assignments, and leave to the extent such modifications are provided for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  Employers should ensure that supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel know how to handle such requests to avoid disparate treatment in violation of Title VII.

K.17 When the employer or its agent administers a COVID-19 vaccine, the value of the incentive (which includes both rewards and penalties) may not be so substantial as to be coercive.  Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information to their employers or their agents. As explained in K.16., however, this incentive limit does not apply if an employer offers an incentive to encourage employees to be voluntarily vaccinated by a health care provider that is not their employer or an agent of their employer.

L.1 Employees must tell their employer if they are requesting an exception to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of a conflict between that requirement and their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances (hereafter called “religious beliefs”).  Under Title VII, this is called a request for a “religious accommodation” or a “reasonable accommodation.”

When making the request, employees do not need to use any “magic words,” such as “religious accommodation” or “Title VII.”  However, they need to notify the employer that there is a conflict between their sincerely held religious beliefs and the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

The same principles apply if employees have a religious conflict with getting a particular vaccine and wish to wait until an alternative version or specific brand of COVID-19 vaccine is available.

As a best practice, an employer should provide employees and applicants with information about whom to contact, and the procedures (if any) to use, to request a religious accommodation.

L.2  Generally, under Title VII, an employer should assume that a request for religious accommodation is based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  However, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer would be justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional supporting information.  An employee who fails to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable request for verification of the sincerity or religious nature of a professed belief risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation.

The employer may ask for an explanation of how the employee’s religious belief conflicts with the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement.  Although prior inconsistent conduct is relevant to the question of sincerity, an individual’s beliefs – or degree of adherence – may change over time and, therefore, an employee’s newly adopted or inconsistently observed practices may nevertheless be sincerely held.  An employer should not assume that an employee is insincere simply because some of the employee’s practices deviate from the commonly followed tenets of the employee’s religion, or because the employee adheres to some common practices but not others.  No one factor or consideration is determinative, and employers should evaluate religious objections on an individual basis.

L.5 If there is more than one reasonable accommodation that would resolve the conflict between the vaccination requirement and the sincerely held religious belief without causing an undue hardship under Title VII, the employer may choose which accommodation to offer.  If more than one accommodation would be effective in eliminating the religious conflict, the employer should consider the employee’s preference but is not obligated to provide the reasonable accommodation preferred by the employee.  If the employer denies the employee’s proposed accommodation, the employer should explain to the employee why the preferred accommodation is not being granted.

To consolidate some useful links, I thought the following might be helpful. Trust me, it’s riveting!

What ReedGroup is doing

ReedGroup continuously tracks and analyzes current and pending leave and accommodation legislation to determine potential impacts to our customers. In addition, ReedGroup monitors guidance from agencies such as the Department of Labor and EEOC and incorporates that guidance into our administration when appropriate.

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Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.