Happy Halloween! In between wiping off the ring of chocolate around our mouths and binging on horror movies, we’ve been busy reviewing the EEOC’s new guidance on religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, setting up our in-home baking business (now that it’s legal in NJ!), and earning some fancy awards. Put down the Nerds, and read on . . .
Updated Guidance on Religious Vaccine Objections
The EEOC updated its guidance on handling religious objections to the vaccine . . . and, well, it’s pretty much what we’ve been saying all along. Here we go, again: employees requesting an exemption to the vaccine on religious grounds have to tell their employer and explain that there is some conflict between the vaccine and their “sincerely held religious belief”. Typically, you accept the request and move on. But, if there is some objective basis to question either the religious nature or sincerity of the belief, an employer is justified in making a “limited factual inquiry” into the request and the underlying religious belief. Welcome to 2021.
Be warned though: the definition of “religion” under the statutes is extremely broad and protects various “nontraditional” beliefs (as well as “traditional” ones). So, while objections to a vaccination requirement based on social, political, or personal preferences do not qualify as “religious beliefs”, proceed with caution. Employers will be within their rights to deny a request where factors exist that undermine an employee’s credibility (think an employee one day asks to be excluded for political reasons, gets denied, and then finds Jesus the next day and repackages the request), but will need to be careful where they draw the line. And this guidance is supposed to make this easier . . .
What’s the takeaway? If you have some objective basis to question either the religious nature or the sincerity of the request, go to town with your limited inquiry to seek additional supporting information and deny any employees who refuse or fail to cooperate. In all other cases, unless the requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business, your best practice may be to grant the request.
That Jersey Air Never Smelled So Good!
Home cooks and bakers were moved to “tiers” (get it?) this month when the Garden State finally “desserted” its ban on selling home-baked goods (just in time for the holidays!).
But seriously, until earlier this month, New Jersey was one of the only states that prohibited people from baking certain items in their home and selling them to the public. Obviously this was meant to maintain oversight on sanitation and safety, but it also crumbled the dreams of many entrepreneurs who just binged The Great British Bake Off. Sweet redemption at last (ok, that was the last one – we promise).
Home bakers will still “knead” to apply for a license (which costs $100) and follow some stringent guidelines (what can be sold, what ingredients must be listed, disclaimers, etc.). Point is, we’re personally very excited for this. While we think we’re better lawyers than bakers, we’re also very good eaters. Well done, Jersey. “Batter” late than never! Ok, now we’re really done.
Bad Bakers, But Decent Lawyers!
We’re proud to shamelessly promote ourselves and announce that both Damien and Brian have again been named as Rising Stars in the areas of Employment and Business/Corporate Law. Damien and Brian were nominated by other attorneys, including opposing counsel. Less than 2.5% of lawyers in the state receive this award.
There we have it – vaccine talk, homemade brownies, and some shiny awards all in one. Thanks for reading this one. As always, if you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
Damien + Brian
ABOUT WEINSTEIN + KLEIN P.C.
Established in 2019, New York City-based Weinstein + Klein is a boutique law firm focused on labor and employment law, business matters, and litigation. Weinstein + Klein works with businesses, individuals, and entrepreneurs to protect their legal interests. In addition to advising clients on employment matters and working with businesses to minimize their risk of litigation, Weinstein + Klein advises small businesses and start-ups on various business law matters. For more information about Weinstein + Klein, please visit www.weinsteinklein.com.