Could Certain COVID-19 Vaccination Exception Requests Signal a Protected Mental Disability?

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP
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Employers implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements are facing a slew of requests for medical and religious exemptions. Most of these exemptions are based on things like a long-held religious belief or medical reasons such as an allergy to a vaccine component. What happens, however, when the employee is requesting the exemption based on what appear to be irrational reasons? For example, the employee tells the company that he does not want to be vaccinated because it will allow the international illuminati to track his movements. Do these explanations trigger accommodation obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act based on a mental disability?

Fortunately for employers, the answer is probably not. In other ADA situations, federal courts have held that employers are not expected to be mental health professionals capable of diagnosing conditions. Absent clear and obvious behavior by the employee that would indicate mental issues to a layperson, employers are not required to consider the exception request as requiring an ADA accommodation response.

When dealing with (and likely denying) these types of exception requests, employers should avoid any characterization of the requests or employees as “crazy,” mentally unstable, or other terms associated with a mental disability. The employer can simply note that the reasons for the request fall outside of medical or religious areas and, therefore, do not qualify for an exception to the vaccination policy.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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