EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
TITLE VII: VACCINATION POLICIES, RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION
July 24, 2013
Your letter dated June 25, 2013, addressed to the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), has been directed to me for reply. Although your correspondence requested that the Commission exercise its discretion to issue a formal interpretation or opinion pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1601.91, I am responding as in the past by informal discussion letter. Once again, this is not an official opinion of the EEOC or the Office of Legal Counsel.
You have asked about the application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, to health care workers’ requests for exemption from employer-mandated vaccinations. In light of your prior extensive inquiries on this topic and my prior extensive replies, I do not believe there is much more I can do to assist you at this time. See letters dated March 5, 2012 and November 2, 2012, which can be viewed on our website at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/foia/letters/.
Many of the questions you now raise deal with the circumstances under which an employer can seek verifying information from an employee in support of a religious accommodation request, whether the information can be sought on an annual basis, and what information can be sought. In particular, you question whether an employer can require that an employee attend a meeting to provide the information, whether an employer can require verification by a third-party in all instances, and whether an employer can ask for the employee’s past vaccination history in determining if this is a sincerely held religious belief.
Please note that in a third letter on this topic to another individual dated December 5, 2012, available on the same web page, I emphasized:
Where a religious accommodation is requested, the employer is permitted to obtain supporting information. “[S]ince idiosyncratic beliefs can be sincerely held and religious, even when third-party verification is needed, it does not have to come from a church official or member, but rather could be provided by others who are aware of the employee’s religious belief or practice.” EEOC Compliance Manual Section 12: Religious Discrimination (2008), www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/religion.html. Where the employer makes reasonable inquiries for such supporting information, the employee must cooperate or he may not be entitled to accommodation.
Id. Moreover, even if the employee provides such information, the employer may deny the accommodation request if it would pose an undue hardship in the circumstances, or may impose other infection control measures on those excused from vaccination, such as a mask requirement, if not done for retaliatory or discriminatory reasons.
My December 5, 2012 letter also observed that “Title VII case law has permitted appropriate employer as well as judicial inquiry into these issues. See Compliance Manual at pages 12-14, 48-51,” and provided citations to numerous judicial decisions illustrating such factual inquiries.
As noted above, this is not an official opinion of the EEOC. I hope this information is helpful in directing you to the Commission’s guidance as well as case law on the issues you have raised
Peggy R. Mastroianni
This page was last modified on August 15, 2013.
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