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Approaching Exemptions to Your Mandated Vaccination Policy

Many employers are mandating that their employees are or become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to continue their employment.

Even with employers imposing a vaccination requirement, there are times when employees may request an accommodation or exemption to the policy. The two areas where employers need to consider an accommodation is when the request is based on a medical or religious reason.

  • Medical/Disability-Related Accommodations: need to embark on the interactive ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodation process with them, which includes asking for certification from their health care provider.
  • Religious Accommodations: “Religion” is not necessarily limited to the major religions but includes generally recognized less common belief systems, and also "individualized" beliefs that are not part of any generally recognized system. The EEOC's guidance is that employers may only ask for additional written documentation if they have objective information that indicates the request may not be genuine. Otherwise, no additional documentation, substantiating the request, should be required.

Request Process

An employer’s mandated vaccine policy should address the topic of accommodations at a high level, and direct employees to a contact at the employer, where they can request an accommodation or exemption, and ask questions. Typically, this contact is your Human Resources Department. Using an accommodation request form is useful here, as it will allow you to stay organized and avoid asking for too much information. Once the need for an accommodation is known, HR can then provide the employee with the specific form.

Your HR team needs to allow for a reasonable timeframe to receive the paperwork back. Ten to 15 days may be appropriate, especially if certification is necessary. Once received, HR and the company (those that are “need to know”) can review the request, meet with the employee, and if applicable, clarify information to determine if the accommodation is feasible - or if there are alternative accommodations that would be suitable.

If the request would ultimately cause undue hardship for the employer or a safety concern, and there are no suitable alternatives available, HR and the employee will need to review this as well.

Accommodation Examples

Appropriate accommodations may differ from role to role, and certainly from one employer to another. Some accommodations that employers can consider to their mandated vaccination policy are:

  • Allowing employees who are not vaccinated to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
  • Requiring those who are not vaccinated to wear face covers while at work or considering other types of appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Providing work-from-home accommodations, depending on the role’s ability to work remotely.
  • Temporarily assigning job duties that do not require vaccination.

Cannot Accommodate?

Employers need to make accommodations that do not cause undue hardship or pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the employee and/or others. “Undue hardship” has different meanings when it comes to medical and religious accommodations. If you find you cannot accommodate a request from an employee, or identify appropriate alternatives, but still the situation is grey, you may want to seek legal counsel for your unique scenario before terminating employment.

Keep in mind that we are also waiting on further guidance from OSHA, which could include more detailed information concerning the recent Executive Order.

As with all things COVID-19, guidance on these issues may change as circumstances surrounding the pandemic change. Continue to look for updates on this topic. For more information on the essential steps businesses can take to support and safeguard their people, visit OneDigital's Coronavirus Advisory Hub.

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