On October 25, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new guidance and questions and answers regarding COVID-19 issues confronting employers and employees. The EEOC’s Technical Assistance is entitled “What You Should Know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and Other EEO Laws.” This Technical Assistance also provides links and references to prior EEOC and CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19.
The new EEOC Technical Assistance for COVID-19 addresses issues such as disability-related inquiries and medical exams, confidentiality of medical information, reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs, undue hardship, pandemic-related harassment and return to work issues from COVID-19 related leaves.
A substantial part of the new EEOC Technical Assistance consists of questions and answers regarding employer vaccination programs and reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a medical disability or sincere religious belief, do not become vaccinated. The EEOC again confirmed that federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring that all employees physically entering the workplace be fully vaccinated, subject to any reasonable accommodation provisions required by Title VII, the ADA or other EEO laws, unless providing an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of an employer’s business.
The new EEOC Technical Assistance contains a separate section on religious objections to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. This section addresses how employees can notify their employer of a religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination and what information employers can request regarding the sincerity of an employee’s stated religious objections to vaccine mandates. The EEOC guidelines also provide some examples of reasonable accommodations for religious exemptions, as well as what might constitute an undue hardship which would permit an employer to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for all employees.
In light of the pending disputes and litigations regarding mandatory employer vaccination programs, as well as upcoming federal vaccination mandates for federal contractors and private employers of over 100 employees and requests for exemptions, this new EEOC Technical Assistance is likely to be cited and relied upon in connection with mandatory employer vaccination programs; potential religious and medical exemptions from vaccine mandates; reasonable accommodations; and undue hardship issues. Additionally, potential issues regarding the implementation and collection of information regarding vaccine mandates should be reviewed and updated.
There have also been recent federal guidelines by other government agencies about Long COVID issues — https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-care/post-covid-index.html; https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/civil-rights-covid19/guidance-long-covid-disability/index.html — and COVID issues under the Rehabilitation Act.
Finally, the United States Supreme Court just upheld a Maine vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, even though that mandate did not contain an exemption for religious beliefs.