How to claim a medical or religious COVID vaccine exemption in NJ
After hosting a recent Town Hall on Employer Vaccine Mandates, one of the biggest takeaways was that workplace rules are still mired in uncertainty and amid multiple legal challenges, there are still no clear answers.
If you are among those who refuse to be vaccinated, you do have options. However, there was consensus among our panel of experts: DO NOT quit your job. Make your employer fire you. That will be your best chance to collect unemployment, although it is not a certainty and is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
In many cases, if you refuse to be vaccinated, you could try to claim either a medical or religious exemption.
Attorney Peter Frattarelli with Archer & Greiner P.C. cautioned, however, that employers do have the ability to challenge both exemptions, and their acceptance by your employer is not guaranteed. Generally, medical exemptions are being accepted with greater frequency, provide you have the documentation from a physician to back it up.
To claim a religious exemption, workers’ rights attorney Dana Wefer says a personal approach is best. She advises you not to use form letters you can find on the internet or to copy someone else's letter.
Wefer says begin by writing a personal letter to your boss. "Write is sincerely," Wefer advises, "Include historical information about yourself, like sacraments you've made or things that are important to you in your religion. It will add to the sincerity of the letter."
In the letter, ask to meet with your boss to discuss your beliefs and request to begin a dialogue. Wefer says it is also best to request what you believe to be a "reasonable accommodation." That could be things like wearing a mask, submitting to regular COVID testing or working from home. None of these accommodations are guaranteed, but they show you are willing to discuss options.
There are also things you should not include in your letter.
"Don't talk about science, don't talk about politics don't talk about your personal medical information," Wefer cautions, "Stick to your sincerely held religious belief."
At this time, religious exemptions do not appear to apply to testing mandates, although Wefer thinks that will eventually be challenged in court.
While following these guidelines may increase the likelihood that you boss will accept your religious exemption, Frattarelli says some companies are challenging them based on your past behavior. Many will look to see if you have ever requested a religious exemption for other vaccines that contain the same components of the COVID vaccine. They may also ask you to certify that you have not, and will not, use medications that also contain the same ingredients or were subject to the same development process of the COVID vaccine.
Another red flag, says Frattarelli, is if you show up one day objecting to vaccines on a political basis, then try to claim a religious exemption.