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Religious Accommodation to Workplace Vaccinations

August 11, 2020 2:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Disclaimer: The following article is not intended as legal advice but rather to provide an overview of workplace vaccination requirements and options for employees whose religious beliefs (including strong personal convictions) oppose some or all vaccinations. Much of the information is from presentations, discussions, and writings of Alan Phillips, J.D. From his own website: “Alan has helped 100's of healthcare workers and other employees get exemptions in the workplace, and can assist you with general educational materials, and can provide specific information, if needed, to your local attorney.” His helpful e-book, The Authoritative Guide to Vaccine Legal Exemptions, is available for purchase at his website. Employees who desire to file a religious accommodation request are strongly encouraged to seek legal counsel. 


Ohio Representatives Ron Hood (R) and Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D) have introduced a new bill, House Bill 268, to limit punitive employment consequences for declining any vaccination.



Approximately a dozen states have legislation pertaining to workplace vaccinations and/or exemptions. Ohio state law does not yet provide exemptions for workplace vaccinations. Employees who decline vaccination -- an invasive medical intervention -- may be fired if the employer does not offer exemptions, reassigned to other areas/duties, and/or required to wear a mask for the duration of “flu season” — often October or November through April.


Some employers do offer their own official exemptions to vaccines such as annual flu shot, but such employers are increasingly rare. Such exemptions are usually limited to medical contraindications and religious exemptions. Medical contraindications are extremely limited according to a list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mainly severe life-threatening allergies to the vaccine or its ingredients. Most people don’t know they have such an allergy until they have already had a catastrophic reaction to a vaccine.



For religious exemptions, some employers actually require letters or other official documentation from religious authorities, which violates the long-held American tradition and both state and federal definition of religious belief, which is about an individual’s deeply held beliefs and not a particular denomination or formalized belief system.


Employees who decline a vaccine may face punitive action from their employers. Some employers even exclude those who decline vaccination from merit raises and other perks. However, public and private companies who employ 15 or more people are required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to provide religious accommodation to employees with sincerely held beliefs. This accommodation does not require any denomination or even belief in God, but must be carefully worded to withstand legal challenge. Common mistakes include requesting religious accommodation focused on safety and efficacy, or science, rather than belief issues.


It is important to recognize that this religious accommodation is not the same as employer-offered exemptions or exemptions in state law. Health Freedom Ohio is aware of people in Ohio who have successfully sought and used religious accommodation regarding vaccination, most with the help of a lawyer. Employers do not typically inform employees of this option, and some make it very difficult to pursue, such as by requiring employees to answer very personal questions about their beliefs and what alternatives to vaccination they would use. 


Under federal law for accommodations, employers can retrain and reassign employees. This accommodation may also extend to college students in clinical work or internships, as well as those in training. Interestingly, as observed by a prominent former vaccine rights attorney, hospital employers often allow exemptions/accommodations for influenza vaccination but often cite “undue hardship” for other vaccines like TDaP, Hep B, Varicella, and MMR.


Other Considerations 

Despite the obvious ethical problems, vaccination requirements in the workplace seem firmly entrenched. More and more vaccines are being added, and powerful pharmaceutical/medical lobbies are pushing for adult vaccinations. Employees must join together in protecting their right to bodily integrity and to determine what medical interventions and pharmaceutical products they consume. Employers should provide very robust data supporting any requirements that carry risk of injury or death. Employers’ rights should never extend inside workers’ bodies, especially when it comes to issues of informed consent to medical products and procedures. One possible avenue for addressing vaccination and other requirements that pose significant risks for workers is the National Labor Relations Board.


Unless you are proactive about protecting your rights, employers can set any and all conditions for employees, and fire employees who object.


To find out more about the new bill, and to learn how you can help safeguard your right to make your own medical decisions, free from government orders, please join us at Health Freedom Ohio.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Health Freedom Ohio. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethic, group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

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