Anti-discrimination laws are clear that an employer cannot discriminate against employees based upon their religion. This, however, leads to another question: what does or does not count as a religion under federal law? One recent case involving a hospital worker offers some perspective on this issue. Although the worker lost his discrimination case, the court’s opinion makes it clear that the range of beliefs that qualify as a religion is broader than one might assume. For advice about this and other areas of employment discrimination law, talk to a knowledgeable New Jersey religious discrimination attorney.
The hospital worker, Paul, had been an employee of a Catholic hospital in southwest Philadelphia since 1994. In 2012, the hospital required its employees to receive a flu vaccination or else submit a form indicating that the employee was medically exempt or exempt based upon religious beliefs.
Paul did not belong to any organized religion. He held strong personal convictions when it came to receiving vaccines, but they were not connected to any religion. In the first two years, Paul submitted the religious exemption form with a lengthy piece of prose explaining his beliefs. Each time, the hospital granted him an exemption. In 2014, the worker submitted the same paperwork and essay. This time, the employer denied the exemption. It required that Paul provide a letter from a clergyperson related to his beliefs, which he could not do. On Dec. 31, 2014, the hospital terminated the worker for not complying with the flu vaccination rule.