March 31, 2022
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its "What You Should Know" Q&As outlining rules for workplace policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic twice during March 2022. On March 14, the EEOC updated the Q&As to provide answers to the following questions about pandemic-related caregiver discrimination under laws enforced by the EEOC:
- Are there sex discrimination considerations if an employer provides telework, modified schedules, or other benefits to employees with school-age children due to school closures or distance learning?
- How might unlawful caregiver discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic arise under the laws enforced by the EEOC?
- Are legal protections available only to workers caring for children, or are these legal protections also available to workers with other caregiving obligations?
- Should employers and employees be aware of other pandemic-related caregiver discrimination issues?
In addition to updating this broad set of employer Q&As, the EEOC issued a technical assistance document, a stand-alone dedicated FAQs document and updated employer best practices document related to caregiver discrimination. Although the guidance does not establish caregivers as a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws, this guidance does reaffirm that employer actions could violate anti-discrimination law if they are based on a protected characteristic, associated with a protected characteristic, or the intersection of two or more protected characteristics.
Prior to the releasing the caregiver discrimination guidance, on March 1, 2022, the EEOC updated the “What You Should Know” Q&As to outline rules for workplace policies related to the COVID-19 vaccines. These updates provide answers to the following questions about religious accommodations for COVID-19 vaccination requirements:
- Do employees who have religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination need to tell their employer? If so, is there specific language that must be used under Title VII?
- Does an employer have to accept an employee’s assertion of a religious objection to a COVID-19 vaccination at face value? May the employer ask for additional information?
- How does an employer show that it would be an “undue hardship” to accommodate an employee’s request for religious accommodation?
- If an employer grants some employees a religious accommodation from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances, does it have to grant all such requests?
- Must an employer provide the religious accommodation preferred by an employee if there are other possible accommodations that also are effective in eliminating the religious conflict and do not cause an undue hardship under Title VII?
- If an employer grants a religious accommodation to an employee can the employer later reconsider it?
The EEOC also made its own internal religious accommodation request form publicly available as an example for employers, explaining this unusual move as a way to help employers and employees given challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These Q&As interpret existing law and regulations and therefore are effective immediately.
Employers should review the updated Q&As guidance and discuss with legal advisors. Review the caregiver discrimination FAQs, as the EEOC includes examples and common circumstances that might constitute unlawful treatment. Consider whether any modifications, if any, your company may need to make to its existing religious accommodations request and approval processes considering this updated EEOC guidance. Business Group will continue to monitor future developments and keep our members updated on any changes to the EEOC’s COVID-19 guidance.
- The COVID-19 Pandemic and Caregiver Discrimination Under Federal Employment Discrimination Laws
- Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
- Business Group on Health: Quick Survey Findings: Large Employers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy Update
If you have questions, comments, or concerns about these or other regulatory and compliance issues, please contact us.
We provide this material for informational purposes only; it is not a substitute for legal advice.