What’s required for a vaccine exemption, and why you can lose your job if you get one

ORLANDO, Fla. — Every time a vaccine mandate is announced by a company, it comes with the same standard phrase somewhere in the press release.

“Except for employees with religious or medical exemptions.”

The constitutionally required exceptions have caused many people who are opposed to getting a vaccine to mistakenly believe there is an easy loophole if their employer decided to enact a mandate as well.

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However, an employment attorney says exemptions are fairly hard to get.

“The onus shifts to the employee to express to the employer that they have a valid and objective medical reason why they cannot use the mask or take the vaccine,” Daniel Pérez, of Pérez Law PA in Orlando, said. “Likewise, the onus shifts to the employee to express to the employer that they have a sincerely held religious belief.”

Key word: objective. Pérez said, in the case of a medical exemption, a doctor’s note won’t cut it.

“The employee may have to go see an immunologist to get a report showing that they do have a medical condition,” he explained.

For religious exemptions, he said a note from a spiritual adviser explaining how a vaccine violates a core tenet of someone’s beliefs will suffice.

That bar may be too high for some hopeful congregations. During a sermon last week, the Faith Assembly of God Church’s senior pastor said he’d sign notes for any congregants who asked him to.

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“If you desire a religious exemption letter or email from our church, we’ll be glad to say this person is affiliated with… our church and we’ve asked them to pray,” Carl Stephens said to his flock, emphasizing the personal nature of the decision to get vaccinated.

The problem for his church, though, is that Christianity, along with most major religions, isn’t opposed to vaccines. Pastors at other Assemblies of God churches in the United States have encouraged their congregations to get the shots. Pérez said he didn’t think Stephens’ letters would survive a court challenge from an employer.

Stephens was unavailable for an interview Monday afternoon, but said in an email his congregation did not take a position on vaccines.

Even if a congregant obtained an exemption, they wouldn’t be given a free pass, Pérez said. An employer would have to make reasonable accommodations, such as requiring testing, masking or allowing an employee to work from home. Anything that places a burden on the employer, such as changing someone’s job, wouldn’t have to be honored.

Furthermore, he said an employee could lose their job if an employer argued a vaccination was necessary, giving the example of ticket takers at theme parks who routinely interact with the public.

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Pérez said he has yet to see someone who can make a successful case for an exemption, saying most had a subjective fear about the shots due to information they read on the internet or heard from a friend.

“I’ve very politely expressed to the potential clients that I can’t help them, that they need to go get an objective evaluation,” he said.