A pepperoni pizza lesson about religious accommodations for employee COVID vaccinations


Image by denithy from Pixabay

Trust me; this will all make sense in a bit.

At least, I hope it does.

Pepperoni Pizza Punishment

Last week, I read a very troubling story from Adam Barnes reporting here at TheHill.com. His story is about seven football coaches at an Ohio high school who allegedly punished a student for missing a voluntary workout by forcing him to eat a pepperoni pizza. The teenage player, who is of the Hebrew Israeli religious faith, supposedly told the coaching staff that he could not eat pork, and they made him eat the pizza anyway.

If true — some coaches dispute the story while the student is reportedly planning a lawsuit against the school — that’s straight-up cruel.

The basics of religious accommodations at work.

Most readers couldn’t imagine something like this happening within your organization. But, this pepperoni pizza offers a good lesson on religious accommodations at work. An employer must adjust the work environment to allow an employee to comply with his or her religious beliefs (a reasonable accommodation) unless doing so would cause the employer to bear more than a de minimis cost or burden (an undue hardship).

So, imagine that you were going to order a few pepperoni pizzas for lunch for the office. If one of your employees keeps kosher or otherwise doesn’t eat pork products as part of his/her religion, it would not cost the company anything extra — heck, you’d save a buck or two — to make one of those pizzas plain.

Conversely, you wouldn’t have to accommodate an employee whose religion requires pizza with foie gras, beluga caviar, and gold leaf shavings. That would create undue hardship because the business would incur more than a de minimis cost.

EEOC on vaccination accommodations.

Ok, now let’s forget about the pizza — it’s making me hungry anyway — and think about vaccines. If you have a mandatory vaccination program — those seem more popular lately — and an employee asks for a religious accommodation to avoid getting vaccinated, how should you handle it?

Here’s what the EEOC says:

In some circumstances, Title VII and the ADA require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, do not get vaccinated for COVID-19, unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.  

Will accommodating someone who needs a vaccine accommodation cause undue hardship to the business? Probably not. Here’s more from the EEOC:

For example, as a reasonable accommodation, an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework, or finally, accept a reassignment. 

(To facilitate the process, consider developing a COVID-19 accommodation request form for vaccine exemptions or basically anything COVID-19 related. AskJan.org has a few samples here.)


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