Inoculating Title VII: The “Undue Hardship” Standard and Employer-Mandated Vaccination Policies

By Mary-Lauren Miller

The widespread administration of a vaccine is essential to bringing an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers can contribute to this goal by requiring employees to be vaccinated. The ability of employers to impose vaccine mandates is theoretically limited in part by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to accommodate religious employees unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. Under the current interpretation of undue hardship, employers typically cannot face legal liability for denying accommodations to employees refusing to receive an employer-mandated vaccine on religious grounds, though some employers may provide accommodations voluntarily. However, there are calls to reinterpret this standard so that employers must absorb greater costs before they may deny religious accommodations. If such calls are heeded, it may impair the ability of employers to mandate vaccines and, in turn, negatively affect public health. This Note argues that employers will not be required to provide religious accommodations to
employer-mandated vaccines, even under the most employee-friendly version of the standard proposed. Nevertheless, any change to the standard should address the issue of vaccine mandates specifically to encourage employers to adopt vaccine mandates without voluntarily providing religious accommodations.