When Does a COVID-19 Vaccine Lodging Cause an Undue Hardship?

Companies that need workers to show evidence of vaccination towards the coronavirus really should have strong procedures and techniques in spot to deal with medical and religious objections. They should really also know how to identify when an lodging would bring about an undue hardship on the business enterprise.

Beneath federal and state anti-discrimination regulations, employers ought to take a look at realistic lodging for workers who object to obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination based on medical ailments or sincerely held spiritual beliefs.

Businesses may well present choice lodging or reject a job modification that would trigger an undue hardship for the business enterprise. On the other hand, they ought to note that the “undue hardship” analysis less than the People with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers disability lodging, is unique from the one under Title VII of the Civil Legal rights Act of 1964, which handles religious lodging.

A lot of businesses are employed to assessing requests less than the undue-hardship regular for incapacity accommodations, which is much far more stringent than the “de minimis” standard for religious accommodation requests, spelled out Joseph Kroeger, an legal professional with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: How do I know if a work accommodation will create an undue hardship?]

Here’s what businesses will need to know about when an lodging might result in an undue hardship below these legislation.

Disability Accommodations

The Equivalent Work Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has periodically current its assistance in response to office vaccination queries. Significantly, the agency said that the federal anti-discrimination rules it enforces will not prohibit employers from requiring all staff members who physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Nevertheless, employers should think about fair accommodations when staff refuse to get vaccinated for health-related and disability-associated factors, including pregnancy-associated disabilities.

If an employer rejects an accommodation request under the ADA centered on undue hardship, the decision will have to be centered on “an individualized assessment of latest instances that show that a certain fair lodging would trigger major difficulty or expense,” according to the EEOC. Companies must contemplate the adhering to components:

  • The mother nature and cost of the accommodation necessary.
  • The facility’s overall fiscal means and amount of staff, as effectively as the effect on the facility’s fees and resources.
  • The employer’s in general money resources, size, employee headcount, and sort and locale of amenities (if the facility that is evaluating the ask for is element of a bigger entity).
  • The employer’s style of functions, which include the framework and functions of the workforce, as well as the geographic separateness and the administrative or fiscal romance of the facility associated in building the accommodation to the employer.
  • The impression of the lodging on the facility’s functions.

If an staff simply cannot get vaccinated versus the coronavirus for disability-connected causes, the employer ought to interact in an “interactive method” (a back-and-forth dialogue with the employee) to ascertain if a fair accommodation can be made.

Leslie Wallis, an legal professional with Ogletree Deakins in Los Angeles, stated the techniques that must be taken to examine affordable lodging ordinarily consist of getting information and facts from the employee’s professional medical company about the employee’s need to have for an lodging and the expected duration of the lodging.

Reasonable lodging for personnel who can’t get vaccinated may perhaps contain performing remotely a mixture of weekly COVID-19 testing, masking and physical distancing going the worker to a non-public workspace or probably transferring the employee to a situation that does not need interaction with the public or other workers.

“An employer has the discretion to decide on among the powerful accommodations,” according to the EEOC’s
on line COVID-19 means. “Exactly where a asked for lodging would end result in undue hardship, the employer will have to supply an substitute accommodation if just one is available absent undue hardship.”

The company endorses that businesses and workers check with the
Work Accommodation Network web page as a source on distinct sorts of accommodations.

Religious Accommodations

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act calls for coated employers to accommodate staff who decline to get vaccinated primarily based on a sincerely held spiritual belief, exercise or observance except if an accommodation would induce undue hardship for the business. 

Notably, the ADA’s stringent undue-hardship standard—which considers no matter if the modification would trigger “sizeable problems or cost”—doesn’t utilize to spiritual lodging requests under Title VII.

Courts have discovered that anything additional than a “de minimis”—or trivial—cost can lead to undue hardship in spiritual accommodation conditions, and the EEOC mentioned in its steering that charges contain the danger of spreading the coronavirus and other security hazards.

Companies really should contemplate aim information, the EEOC mentioned, this sort of as regardless of whether the staff functions outside or indoors performs alone or in a group or has shut call with co-employees, customers or other company associates.

Michael Puma, an lawyer with Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia, noted that businesses are going through an influx of religious accommodation requests.

“Businesses can contemplate the variety of requests for equivalent exemptions and/or the cumulative expense or burden of granting lodging to others when analyzing no matter if granting a request for an accommodation will impose undue hardship,” he described. 

The most frequently considered lodging for not having vaccinated is donning a mask and acquiring tested for COVID-19 once or 2 times a week, Kroeger noticed. Beneath the EEOC’s guidance, he said, it seems that employers can take the position that the charge of such testing, particularly for a significant group of staff members requesting religious exemptions, is much more than de minimis and as a result could be thoroughly turned down by an employer.

The EEOC observed that companies can not “depend on speculative hardships when confronted with an employee’s religious objection but, relatively, really should depend on aim facts.”

Raeann Burgo, an lawyer with Fisher Phillips in Pittsburgh, stated businesses must remember to engage in the interactive course of action and document it, just as they would for a disability-similar lodging ask for. 

Reliable Methods

Some businesses have by now executed vaccination prerequisites for their workplaces beneath company procedures or in accordance with federal and condition mandates. Furthermore, quite a few enterprises with at the very least 100 workers could be choosing no matter whether to involve vaccination or enable for masking and weekly COVID-19 testing under
an crisis non permanent regular (ETS) that the Occupational Protection and Well being Administration (OSHA) published on Nov. 5.

­­­­­­Although a federal appeals court docket briefly halted the ETS though it considers a legal challenge, employers must nonetheless put together for the rule, which would require companies to set up penned COVID-19 vaccination and tests procedures. If the ETS survives legal issues, unvaccinated personnel will have to don masks by Dec. 5 and offer a negative COVID-19 exam on a weekly foundation starting Jan. 4.

Fisher Phillips encouraged that employers put together for the ETS as if it will just take influence but hold off on utilizing its actions right up until the last judicial result is sure.

“HR ought to commence to prepare communications that it will use in relaying facts to employees about its vaccine plan,” Burgo said. “This involves a vaccine policy itself and a realistic lodging plan.”