Helping small businesses grow.

  • Blog
  • >
  • 2021 Workplace Vaccine Mandates

2021 Workplace Vaccine Mandates

Navigating Medical and Religious Exemptions

President Biden announced vaccination requirements for the federal government in July and called on the private sector to do more to encourage vaccination as well. Since then, jobs requiring vaccination are up 90% and employers with 100+ employees are in limbo on a pending rule mandating workplace vaccinations (President Biden’s covid-19 plan, 2021). 

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. The rule also requires employers to provide paid time off for the time it takes for workers to be vaccinated or to recover if they experience post-vaccination side effects. The requirement will impact more than 80 million workers in the private sector. 

Employers are asking what they can do if workers refuse. Some employers are firing workers who won’t get the vaccine and others are requiring weekly testing or other safety precautions. Employers implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination programs must manage, and in some cases, accommodate exemption requests. Legal exemptions from mandatory vaccination include medical exemptions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and exemptions based on sincerely held religious beliefs pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and equivalent state laws for both federal statutes). 

How do employers handle these requests and ensure compliance? 

STEP 1: Determine whether the employer is covered by the ADA and Title VII 

All employers, including state and local government employers, with 15 or more employees are covered by the ADA and Title VII. The exception may be tribal entities such as tribal government, tribal casinos, and tribal investment operations. 

STEP 2: Ensure that a policy and procedure exist for handling accommodation requests 

Organizations should implement or review policies and procedures for handling requests for medical and religious accommodations. Existing job descriptions should also be reviewed to confirm they include all aspects of the job and include any requirements for mandatory vaccinations. 

STEP 3: Determine whether the employee has a disability under the ADA 

For ADA accommodations, the employee should be asked to provide appropriate documentation from their health care provider regarding the nature of any impairment(s), the duration of the need for accommodation and the extent to which the impairment(s) conflict with the employer’s vaccination requirement. Follow the typical Interactive Process for all ADA accommodation requests.

STEP 4: Determine whether the employee has a “sincerely held” religious belief 

  • Understand that the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs and practices with which an employer may be unfamiliar. 
  • The religious belief must be “sincerely held” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and employers are supposed to start out with the assumption that the employee’s religious belief is sincere. 
  • The employee should be asked to provide a written statement explaining their objection to the vaccine. Employers can request supporting documentation from the employee’s religious leader such as a priest or rabbi, but avoid using this as a sole decision-maker because the EEOC does not require that an employee has to belong to an organization to follow the beliefs, and the employee need not be required to attend gatherings or services as proof. 
  • Employers should also consider follow-up interviews. One purpose of the interview is to be fair to employees who have legitimate religious objections but are less adept at expressing themselves in writing. The other purpose is to “weed out” the employees who are faking it. 
  • There may be a few situations in which a religious group’s official position provides an “objective basis” for questioning an employee’s request. The United States District Court of Massachusetts recently upheld a public university’s decision to deny a student’s request in which the student did little more than assert she was a Catholic. She was given the opportunity to provide more information about the religious basis for her request but did not. Therefore, school officials relied on a public statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops saying vaccination was “morally justified” (Melcon, 2021). 

STEP 5: Document, Document, Document!

Documenting reasons for denials is equally important as documenting approvals in case the employer needs comparative evidence. Documentation should include the employee’s request, supporting information, reason for determining whether or not the request was religious in nature, the reason for determining whether the employee’s belief is “sincere”, and any other information that might come in handy in the event of a legal challenge. 

Finally, in addition to having solid policies and procedures, employers may want to consider doing any or all of the following: 

  • Develop vaccination education campaigns. 
  • Make obtaining the vaccine as easy as possible for employees. 
  • Cover any costs that might be associated with getting the vaccine. 
  • Provide incentive to employees who get vaccinated (ensure compliance with HIPAA)
  • Provide paid time off for employees to get the vaccine and recover from any potential side effects. 

If you need to fill the HR gaps in your organization with solutions that help you better manage your people, your business and your compliance, then give us a call!

Sarah DeWitt 

The Bold Phoenix! 


Phone (269) 303-7473


Thank you so much for the help. This wouldn’t have been possible without you. Am very grateful for your help and support and all the encouragement and positive vibes. God bless you!

—Isa Clark

I appreciate all that you do to support small businesses in the region. You are knocking it out of the park!

—Sonja A. Dean, Senior Program Officer, LISC

Thank you so much for your help and direction! Thank you so much for always being here for me to help, motivate, direct, and encourage me. Underground Hu$tle would really be nonexistent if it weren’t for you!  Thank you so much for being you and everything you continue to do.

—Jäquil Short

We look forward to seeing more programing and resources from the South Haven Region Business Hub.

—Josh Musinski, Water and Wheat, Vegan Chef Crafted Creations

WE GOT APPROVED FOR OUR NEW RESTAURANT!!! I can’t thank you enough for your guidance, mentorship, expertise, and motivation. We greatly appreciate your efforts towards the growth of Fruit Street Kitchen!

—Mo’Nique Crowley, Fruit Street Kitchen

Thank you for all your help as always I can’t sing your praises enough.

—Brent Wedding, Business Banking Relationship Manager, PNC Bank

I do appreciate your help with all my heart and am not particularly sure how to express the gratitude that dwells in my heart right now. Thank you and may you be blessed always!

—Isa Clark, Clark Special Kitchen

Can’t thank you enough for being at my presentation this morning. I’m so thankful for absolutely everything you have done for me and The Donut Cart thus far. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!

—Amber Gille, Realtor, The Donut Cart

Thank you so much; I knew when I met you, you were like an angel. I appreciate you so much and I won’t let you down. Your hard work in what you are doing in the community is appreciated.

—Jamie Bigby, Entrepreneur

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing so much information. I look forward to being able to be involved in this great networking experience. I really will call on your assistance for help with this Business Plan.

—Joanna Partee, Silver Fox Assistant, LLC


South Haven Region Business Hub - A partnership between the City of South Haven, the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce, and Lake Michigan College. Powered by the South Haven Community Foundation.