EEOC Issues Religious Accommodation Guidance on Non-Employees

If you are in the health care industry and you have a mandatory vaccination policy, you’ll want to read the guidance recently issued by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explaining its position on whether you are obligated to reasonably accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of contractors, outside vendors, volunteers, and interns, when they conflict with your mandatory vaccination policy. In an earlier informal opinion letter, the EEOC affirmed that employers have an obligation under Title VII to exempt employees from employer-mandated vaccinations if doing so would be a reasonable accommodation of the employee’s religious beliefs and would not cause the employer undue hardship. But what about those who perform activities at your worksite, but aren’t your employees?

• Contractors: According to the EEOC, you do not have a religious accommodation obligation toward workers who truly are independent contractors.

• Outside Vendors: Even though the employees of outside vendors are not your employees, you may be liable for a Title VII violation if your failure to accommodate their religious belief interferes with their employment with their own employer.

• Volunteers: If the individual truly is a volunteer, they are not your employee and you need not accommodate their religious beliefs. However, even if they are classified as a volunteer, if the individual is receiving any significant remuneration (i.e., stipends, health benefits, pension benefits, workers’ compensation coverage, professional certifications, etc.), or if volunteer work is a prerequisite for employment, or typically leads to employment, then the individual may be considered an employee for Title VII purposes, and you have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their religious beliefs.

• Interns: If the individual is a paid student intern, your duty to reasonably accommodate his or her religious objection to vaccination will depend on the facts of the situation.  In other words, is the person more like a student, or more like an employee?

For more information on religious accommodation, see our FYI Religious Discrimination and contact your MSEC staff representative when a situation arises.