Memo: Mandatory Vaccinations - Seeking a Religion-Based Accommodation
Updated On: Oct 08, 2021
National Executive Council
October 8, 2021
Mandatory Vaccinations - Seeking a Religion-Based Accommodation
We have reached the conclusion -- after multiple hours of meetings, review of past and pending federal litigation, and counsel from AMFA Legal – that implementation of the airline industry vaccination mandate cannot be prevented. It is still possible, however, that an employee who objects to vaccination based on sincerely held religious beliefs may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation by your carrier that does not require vaccination. For those who believe they may qualify for such a reasonable exemption, we provide the following guidance.
I. THE ACCOMMODATION REQUEST MUST BE BASED ON RELIGION, NOT POLITICAL/IDEOLOGICAL VIEWS
Title VII was only intended to protect and accommodate individuals with sincere religious beliefs.
Thus, if an applicant for a reasonable accommodation couches his application in terms of political or social philosophies, or mere personal preferences, the employer can be expected to reject the application on the ground that such beliefs are not protected by Title VII no matter how strongly they are held We strongly encourage you to be sincere in this accommodation request process.
Title VII, however, broadly defines the term “religion” to include “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief…” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated:
In most cases whether or not a practice or belief is religious is not at issue. However, in those cases in which the issue does exist, the Commission will define religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.
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The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee.
29 C.F.R. § 1605.1.
II. THE COMPANY IS PERMITTED TO INQUIRE INTO THE SINCERITY OF YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
Title VII’s broad definition of religious beliefs is designed, in part, to discourage employers from inquiring into the validity of your religious belief. However, an employer is entitled to make inquiries for the purpose of determining whether the individual’s reasonable accommodation request is based on sincerely held religious beliefs as opposed to personal or political preferences.
At least one court has upheld as lawful an employer demand that the person seeking the accommodation identify a witness who could provide “independent corroboration” that the applicant’s religious beliefs are sincerely held.
III. EMPLOYER’S RIGHT TO PLACE LIMITS ON THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION
Under Title VII, an employer may deny an accommodation request if it would impose more than minimal costs. Recently, United Airlines (UAL) has argued that any court-mandated company-wide testing alternative would impose monetary, administrative, and health-related costs that would exceed the de minimis standard. Indeed, there is relevant precedent that holds that even the “mere possibility” that religious accommodation might adversely affect co-workers would exceed that standard. Thus, even if your religious objection is recognized as legitimate, a reasonable accommodation that ensures your continued employment may be withheld.
In AMFA’s view, periodic COVID-19 testing should be considered for our members as a reasonable alternative for those who object to vaccination on a religious basis and the Association is negotiating with your carrier to that end.