President Biden issued an Executive Order compelling companies with more than 100 employees to require all employees to be vaccinated or provide proof of weekly negative COVID-19 tests. This also applies to smaller companies that are federal contractors.
While this order creates many legal questions for companies, the most pressing decision employees must make is whether to get the shot or be fired.
Though there are exceptions to a vaccine mandate, most employees likely do not fit within either of the exceptions. The two main exceptions deal with ADA disability accommodations and accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs.
If a disability prevents you from getting the vaccine, you may request to be excused from getting the vaccine as a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA.
However, be prepared to prove that you do have a medical condition that will prevent you from getting it. Expect your employer to verify that you really do have a disability that will prevent you from getting the vaccine.
A company is not going to just take your word for it. Nor should it. Because going unvaccinated can put others in danger, a company is well within its rights to request medical information to verify that you do have a disability when it considers your ADA reasonable accommodation request. That proof will need to be more than just saying, “my doctor said I should not get it.”
Sincerely-Held Religious Beliefs
Some employees request an exemption from the mandatory vaccine requirement because a sincerely held religious belief prevents the employee from receiving the vaccine.
Generally, this is a small part of the workforce population. However, in recent weeks, it has expanded rapidly, with many websites starting to pop up offering “advice” to employees on how to seek this accommodation or even selling pastoral “notes” to employees.
If you ask for a religious accommodation, know that you must show that you have a sincerely held religious belief. Be prepared to identify the specific religion. Be prepared to explain why this sincerely held religious belief requires accommodation.
Companies are already wise to employees who “suddenly” claim to hold sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from getting the vaccine.
One popular request for an accommodation addresses that the vaccine was developed (in part) using fetal stem cells. Many employees claim that fact prevents them from getting vaccinated.
One employer is pushing back. It requires its employees to verify and attest that they do not take any medication or vaccine developed with the use of fetal stem cells. This includes very popular and commonly used medicines such as Tylenol, Pepto-Bismal, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, and Claritin. That company wants to know how committed the employees are to the sincerely held religious belief. If the employee takes any of those medications, an argument can be made that the employee is not necessarily all that committed to the belief.
If you intend to ask your company for religious accommodation, be prepared for questions about your request.
If it makes you mad to provide evidence of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, think about why your employer is asking for it. Remember, companies owe a duty to their other employees and customers to provide a safe environment.
If you don’t want to do support your accommodation request, you may walk with your feet. You do not have to continue to work for a company that requires you to be vaccinated. You can quit.
If you don’t want to quit, please remember that your company is trying to balance its duties owed to other employees and customers. It is going to take all of us working together to get through this pandemic. Do your part to keep everyone safe.