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As many employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced new guidance for employers.

The newly expanded technical guidance, added October 25, appears in section L of EEOC’s  frequently asked questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides information about how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies when an applicant or employee requests an exception from an employer’s vaccination requirement because of conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. 

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII also requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so creates undue hardship.

Key updates include:

  • Employees and applicants must inform their employers if they seek an exception to a vaccine requirement due to a sincerely held religious belief.
  • Employers must consider requests for religious accommodations but are not required to consider social, political, or economic views, or personal preferences of employees who seek exceptions to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
  • Employers that demonstrate “undue hardship” are not required to accommodate an employee’s request for a religious accommodation.

Federal Vaccination Mandate

Under Executive Order 14042, and as part of the White House’s COVID-19 mitigation plan,  federal agencies were directed to require both federal contractors and their subcontractors to comply with COVID-19 workplace safety guidance. Federal contracts valued at over $250,000 must include provisions mandating vaccinations and other protocols for contractors’ and subcontractors’ employees, including student employees. The deadline for contractors is December 8.

On November 1, the White House COVID-19 Taskforce released updated guidance for federal contractors on the Biden administration vaccine mandate.

An issue brief prepared by the American Council on Education provides a framework for analyzing how the federal contractor rules may apply to your institution.

OSHA Guidance Update

In early September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it was developing Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). They will require private employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to produce a negative COVID-19 test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to the workplace. 

The ETS are expected to be released shortly and will be effective immediately for private sector employees, including private colleges and universities in the 29 states where OSHA has jurisdiction. The 21 remaining states with their own OSHA-approved plans for private sector employers will be required to adopt the ETS or “just-as-effective measures” within 30 days. In the 26 states with OSHA-approved state workplace safety and health plans covering public employees, the ETS or a standard at least as protective must be adopted within 30 days.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also be required to mandate vaccinations for workers and volunteers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including teaching hospitals.

You can find additional resources on federal employer and tax requirements related to COVID-19 here


Mary Bachinger

Director, Tax Policy


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