What are the required elements of valid claims for workplace exemptions of the following types? Exemption would be for an employer-required vaccination against some communicable illness.

  • Medical: I guess this requires that a medical professional confirms the need for a medical exemption. Can it be any doctor?

  • Religious/Philosophical: Does the employee have to provide any evidence that beliefs are strongly held and genuine, or must the employer disprove this? Also, how specific does the belief need to be?

Also, is it the responsibility of the employee to suggest reasonable accommodations or must the employer figure out how to accommodate? If the employee doesn't find the accommodation suitable, must there be a separate exemption claimed for the accommodation?

Assume this in the US, all parties are US citizens, employment is full time salaried exempt, at will and no union.

See also this related question.

  • 4
    What exactly would the employee be claiming exemption from? The question title mentions "vaccine" but as far as I know, there is no current legal mandate for any vaccination for employment in the US. Any such mandate would probably be a state law, and thus the rules would vary from state to state. Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 15:18
  • @DavidSiegel Good catch, added this: "Exemption would be for an employer-required vaccination against some communicable illness." Good point about state laws affecting this. Is it answerable assuming no specific legal requirements - just the employer deciding the employees should get it?
    – Patrick87
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 15:22
  • @DavidSiegel afaik, the military just vaccinates against some illnesses any personal in some regions, such as yellow fever. but then again, military is special. However there had been smallpox mandatory vaccinations, and there is a huge case about that.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 20:13
  • In the U.S. this is very state dependent. Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


If the requirement is imposed by an employer, then the basis for an exemption, if any, would be whatever the employer choose to allow, unless some applicable law required some particular exemption. Such mandates are not common. Indeed I do not recall hearing of any such absolute mandates. But an employer could choose to impose one, and I have heard (and read) discussions of hospitals, for example, requiring COVID-19 vaccinations to be taken by employees when available.

If an employer mandates a vaccination, it is up to the employer to decide when, and if, an exemption is warranted. It is up to the employee to decide whether to comply by accepting the vaccination or refuse at the risk of being fired.

I do not know of any law which would specifically require an employer to grant exemptions in particular circumstances. A law might exist, or be passed, requiring such exemptions.

If the employee had a particular medical condition which makes a vaccination si9gnificantly more risky for that employee than for an average person, and if that condition was considered to be a disability (not all or even most medical conditions are so considered) then the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would require the employer to offer a "reasonable accommodation" to the employee, if one is available. Exactly what accommodation is "reasonable" is a fact-based determination, and would depend on the reason for the mandate, the cost and burden of the accommodation on the employer, and the degree if risk to the employee with and without the accommodation. In some cases no accommodation is found to be "reasonable", and in such cases the ADA does not mandate any accommodation at all.

The ADA generally specifies whet must be done when an employee has \ a disability, but dopes not specify exactly how a disability must be proved. A medical certificate is common, but njot invariable, iof an employer questions the existence o a disability.

The ADA would not require an exemption for a "Religious/Philosophical" objection. Soem state laws protect religious scruples in various particular employment situations. In some but not all states objections on such grounds for vaccinations otherwise required for school attendance are honored. The exact grounds accepted vary from state to state. A specific state would need to be listed for a more specific answer to be given, and I am not aware of any state that has such a requirement for exemption from a private employer's vaccine mandate.

Addition: It seems from comments that some employers, such as hospitals and the military, already require vaccinations for some diseases. This seems reasonable to me, and does not change my answer otehrwise.

  • 1
    Some (many?) hospitals already require employees to get an annual flu shot. Long before COVID existed. I believe the OP question amounts to “Is the employer legally required to have an exemption process and what are they legally allowed ti demand in said process?”
    – Damila
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 5:51

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