Michael Passarella Quoted in the Commercial Observer on Religious Exemptions from COVID-19 Vaccinations


Employment Practices partner  Michael J. Passarella was recently quoted in the Commercial Observer regarding vaccination exemptions during the COVID-19 pandemic as some companies consider whether to mandate employee vaccinations before they can return to the workplace. Mr. Passarella commented on the different types of exemptions and how companies can navigate accepting or denying them. When the employee’s concern is based on religion or a medical/disability issue, the employer is obligated to consider “reasonable accommodations” to allow the person to work. Determining what those accommodations might be “is where the rubber meets the road.” He continued, “First, the employer must determine whether a worker’s request for a religious exemption is based on a “sincerely held” religious belief, Then, once that hurdle is cleared, the company has to make a reasonable accommodation, which could be as simple as letting the employee continue to work from home,” but also offered that the law does not require an accommodation in cases where it was so disruptive as to actually get in the way of conducting normal business. He continued, “There’s little in either the Catholic or Jewish liturgies that would preclude receiving a vaccination. It doesn’t have to be what would be considered in quotes an ‘organized’ religion, it could be somebody’s theistic beliefs. But they have to be sincerely held, and there has to be some explanation about why the vaccination is an issue.” He advised that employers could require additional information or documentation in certain circumstances. He concluded by saying that employment agencies “have cautioned [employers] not to be heavy-handed in their approach, when somebody comes forward with a request for religious accommodations. Certainly, I think asking for a little bit more information is going to be OK. But there’s no real set guidance on how much is too much.”


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