Sincere Religious BeliefsHow far does an employer have to go to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs? That is an issue raised in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Memorial Healthcare on February 13 (EEOC v Memorial Healthcare).

The suit claims the Michigan hospital failed to reasonably accommodate Yvonne Bair’s religious practices when it rescinded its job offer after Bair claimed her religious beliefs prevented her from getting a flu vaccine.

Faith versus Flu Vaccine

In the suit, the EEOC says Memorial intentionally deprived Bair of equal employment opportunities based on her religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Specifically, Bair applied and received a job offer to work as a medical transcriptionist for Memorial. Memorial informed Bair of its policy that all employees had to receive a flu vaccine. However, Bair claims as a “follower of Jesus Christ,” she has a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits her from ingesting or injecting foreign substances into her body (irrespective of its divine origin, maybe wine ingested at a certain party Jesus hosted is considered “natural.”).

In response, Memorial offered a vaccine via nasal spray, which Bair refused. The complaint alleges Bair also believes she must rely on only “natural methods for health.” Memorial then withdrew its job offer. The EEOC also alleges that Memorial allows persons whose medical conditions don’t permit them to receive vaccines to wear masks. And Bair offered to wear a mask during flu season.

The EEOC’s suit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. It seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief prohibit Memorial from engaging in any employment practice that discriminates based on religion.

Workplace policies and exemptions for religious beliefs.

In representing employers, we can say this case highlights one of the challenges employers face in balancing their business objectives with employees’ religious beliefs.

Here, the hospital’s general vaccination policy is rationally related to patient health and safety, i.e., preventing the transmission of and complications from the flu. Whether an individual’s religious belief – nuanced or otherwise – is enough to receive an exemption from a workplace policy remains to be seen. But this case also underscores the importance of carefully responding to an employee’s request for a religious accommodation. We’ll continue to monitor this case.

For more information about complying with federal or Michigan employment law, contact attorney Jason Shinn. Since 2001, Mr. Shinn has focused on representing clients in employment matters in state and federal courts, and before the EEOC.