Here’s how Washington employees can request religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine
SPOKANE, Wash – Employees of Washington state who are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine now have a way to request religious and medical exemptions.
Governor Jay Inslee is requiring thousands of employees to get the vaccine as a condition of their employment. That includes state employees, health care workers, teachers, school volunteers and coaches.
When Governor Inslee made the announcement in mid-August, it wasn’t yet clear what would qualify as a religious exemption. This week, state agencies and school districts are receiving the forms that employees need to fill out to request those exemptions.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction sent guidelines and a template form to school districts. It asks the employee to “describe the religious belief, practice, or observance that is the basis for [the] religious exemption.”
It also asks if the religious belief objects to all medical treatment, all vaccinations, or only the COVID-19 vaccination.
The employee is then asked to explain the accommodation they’re requesting.
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OSPI also passed along guidance for how a district should assess a request for religious accommodation. You can read that full document at this link.
It suggests that employers should “proceed with caution and obtain legal advice… if they have doubts as to the sincerely held religious belief.”
OSPI also advises that the employer can ask limited questions about the religious belief. “Such inquiries might include how long the employee has followed the professed belief or what constitutes the basic tenets of the religion.”
“The employer does not have to accept a high-level statement of religious observance that provides no details; an employer can ask about the specific belief, tenet, or observance that conflicts with the vaccination requirement. The template religious accommodation request form includes a question about the conflict presented,” the guidance continues.
Other Washington state agencies are also posting forms employees must fill out for both religious and medical exemption requests.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has posted both the religious and medical exemption request forms online.
The medical exemption request form requires a health care provider to answer questions about the employee and the need for an exemption. The form must be signed by a physician.
The vaccine mandate is controversial. Some employees say they’d rather quit than get the vaccine. In Spokane Valley, more than a dozen firefighters have said they plan to quit instead of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
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