Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

There are several different federal, state and local orders, proclamations and regulations being issued regarding Employer’s requirements related to mandatory vaccinations. This has caused a great deal of confusion as to what requirements apply, and what exceptions are available. Please beware that these requirements are changing on a regular basis. Here is a brief Q&A (focused on Washington employers) regarding this issue.

Q: Are Employers required to accommodate religious beliefs as it relates to mandatory vaccination / testing requirements?

A: Yes. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based upon religious beliefs.

Q: What is meant by “Religion” under Title VII and the WLAD?

A: Title VII defines “religion” broadly. It includes traditional organized religions. It also includes religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or only held by a small number of people. Social, political, or economic philosophies, or personal preferences are not “religious” beliefs, however.

Q: What is required to request a religious accommodation?

A: An employee must have a “sincerely held” religious belief to seek an accommodation under the law. Employers should be careful to question the validity of the belief once it has been asserted. The EEOC has provided guidance on religious accommodations, stating: “the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices, and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar. Therefore, the employer should ordinarily assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. However, if an employee requests a religious accommodation, and an employer is aware of facts that provide an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance, the employer would be justified in requesting additional supporting information.” EEOC Guidance, Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination, Dated January 15, 2021.

Q: Does this mean that Employers cannot mandate vaccinations or testing?

A: No. This means that if the Employer mandates vaccinations / testing and an employee seeks a religious accommodation, the Employer should conduct a case-by-case assessment to determine if it can accommodate the employee’s request without creating an undue hardship on the Company.

Q: What is an Undue Hardship for religious accommodations?

A: An Employer may deny an employee’s request for a religious accommodation when the Employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would create an undue hardship. An accommodation may cause an undue hardship if it is more than a de minimis (or minimal) impact on the Employer’s business. The hardship must be genuine, and not speculative.

Q: Is an Undue Hardship in reviewing a religious accommodation, the same as one in the disability accommodation process?

A: No. It is a much lower standard than is required for disability accommodations.

For additional information concerning this topic or any other labor and employment issue, please contact any of our attorneys directly at (206) 447-0182 or

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