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AG Derek Schmidt advises employers not to question religious beliefs of employees who claim waiver from vaccine mandate

Release Date: Nov 24, 2021

TOPEKA – (November 24, 2021) – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt today advised Kansas employers that they must not inquire into the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief when the employee claims a religious waiver from a COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

New state legislation that became effective yesterday requires all employers, public or private sector, to accommodate employee requests for relief from COVID-19 vaccine requirements on the ground that the requirement would violate a sincerely held religious belief of the employee and forbids employers from “inquiring into the sincerity of the request” by the employee.

Schmidt noted that some employers have been requiring employees who claim a religious waiver to complete detailed questionnaires designed to gather information for use in evaluating the sincerity of the employee’s religious beliefs. For example, some questionnaires asked how long the employee had held the particular belief and requested documentation of the existence of the employee’s faith and of how tenets of the faith precluded COVID-19 vaccination. In at least some cases, public employers also established review committees or procedures that would evaluate an employee’s response and determine whether the employee had sufficiently demonstrated a “sincere” religious belief that would justify granting the waiver.

Those sorts of inquiries and discretionary determinations are now illegal in Kansas, Schmidt said.

“In Kansas, an employee’s religious faith may not be put on trial in order to obtain the waiver to which the employee is entitled by law,” Schmidt said. “It is particularly distressing when a public-sector employer – an agent of the government – sits in judgment of the sincerity of an employee’s religious faith. Under the new law now in effect, that is not only distressing, it is also illegal.”

Schmidt said he today is directly contacting public-sector employers that he is aware may be in violation of the new law and advising them they must immediately cease and desist any illegal procedures and properly grant employee requests for religious waivers. 

Schmidt encouraged all employers to immediately review their procedures for receiving and granting employee requests for religious waivers from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and to conform them with the law. He noted that under the new law, employees aggrieved by an employer’s violation of the law may file a complaint with the Kansas Department of Labor, and an employer who is found in violation and does not correct any illegal actions or procedures may ultimately be subject to substantial civil penalties imposed by a court at the request of the attorney general’s office.

“The purpose of this new law is to protect workers, not to punish employers,” Schmidt said. “We seek compliance, not punishment. So I encourage all Kansas employers, whether public or private, to immediately review their policies and procedures and conform them to the requirements of the new law in order to respect the religious liberties of Kansas workers as the law requires.”

A copy of the new law approved Monday by the Legislature and that became effective yesterday is available at https://bit.ly/3nOES1T.

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