As the Omicron coronavirus variant sweeps across the U.S., vaccine mandates throughout the country have been tightening once again. However, for federal employees, the tighter restrictions are nothing new. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, federal vaccine mandates have been some of the most restrictive in the nation, even for those who attempt to opt out of taking the vaccine due to an exemption for medical, religious, philosophical, or personal reasons.
What Are the Current Vaccine Mandates?
In September, the federal government introduced the Path Out of the Pandemic program. The purpose of the program is to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates amongst workers in both the public and private sectors. However, before the Path Out of the Pandemic program could get rolling, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the plan. Recently, an appeals court has reinstated the plan, which is expected to go into effect in January. Those who will be required to be vaccinated under the plan include but are not limited to the following:
- Employees at Large Companies – Employees who work at companies with 100 or more workers will have to either be fully vaccinated or be tested weekly. Beginning in January, at-home Covid-19 tests will be free.
- Federal Employees – Employees of the federal government will be required to be fully vaccinated or face penalties. Penalization for non-compliance will not go into effect until January 2022.
- Federal Contractors – Like federal employees, federal contractors will be required to be vaccinated. Contractors will not begin facing punishment for not complying with the vaccine mandate until January 2022.
- Healthcare Workers – The federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers only applies to those who work at hospitals, home healthcare companies, and any other healthcare facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.
- Citizenship Applicants – Anyone applying for U.S. citizenship must be fully vaccinated.
Those opposed to these latest federal vaccine mandates are still using every legal means available to stop them from going into effect. If the mandates can’t be stopped from going into effect, individuals can try claiming an exemption to opt out of taking the vaccine. Exemptions that people have attempted to claim to opt out of taking the vaccine include medical exemptions, personal or philosophical exemptions, and religious exemptions. Per a WebMD report, penalties for those who can’t get an exemption and still refuse to take the vaccine can include required counseling, a five-day deadline to get the shot, a two-week suspension from work, and job loss.
How Do Religious Exemptions Work?
Claiming a religious exemption to opt out of a vaccine mandate is no easy task. In theory, a religious exemption enables an employee to legally opt out of getting the Covid-19 vaccine if it is proven that taking the vaccine violates their sincerely held religious beliefs, observances, and practices. However, there are several steps that need to be taken just to apply for a religious exemption, and even if all the steps are completed correctly, a religious exemption can still be denied due to the nature of a worker’s job, level of interaction with co-workers and the public, and how their vaccination status could impact workday operations in the foreseeable future.
For those thinking about claiming a religious exemption to opt out of taking the Covid-19 vaccine, there are questions you will want to know the answer to before making your claim, such as:
- What are the legal procedures for claiming a religious exemption?
- How do I properly fill out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Religious Accommodations Request Form?
- Can my employer question the sincerity of my religious beliefs?
- Will I be penalized or even fired if my religious exemption is found invalid?
- Can my employer ask me how my religious beliefs conflict with the vaccine mandate?
- If an employer approves a religious exemption for one employee, must the employer grant religious exemptions to any other employee that requests one?
Discussing your situation with an experienced federal employment lawyer is the best way to get the answers you need to understand how religious exemptions and the federal vaccine mandate work and whether a religious exemption is the right option for you. At John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, we specialize in representing federal employees, federal contractors, unions, and employee associations in federal employment law cases. We understand what it takes to help you and have a long list of legal victories and settlements to prove it.
If you are a federal employee and have questions about religious exemptions and/or the vaccine mandate, give John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law a call at (202) 759-7780 or fill out our online contact form today!