Employment

Conscientious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates: Rights and Responsibilities

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COVID-19 vaccine mandates continue expanding, including President Biden’s recent announcement to require all employers with at least 100 employees to likewise impose such requirements. Meanwhile, increasing voices are expressing concerns and are invoking religious, medical, and other objections to such blanket mandates. Are such objections legally valid? Should they, or must they, therefore be honored as exemptions to vaccine mandates? What about COVID-19 testing, and masking too?

Demkovich: The Ministerial Exception Bars Harassment Claims Too

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“The First Amendment ministerial exception protects a religious organization's employment relationship with its ministers, from hiring to firing and the supervising in between.”

This summer, with the foregoing declaration, the en banc Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) dismissed a minister’s hostile work environment claim against his church employer and significantly clarified and strengthened religious institutions’ rights pertaining to their employment of ministers. The Court’s decision in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Calumet City, overturned a smaller panel of the Circuit Court holding that the “ministerial exception” was not applicable and therefore that ministerial employees could pursue hostile work environment claims.

As a result of this decision, churches and other worshipping bodies within the Seventh Circuit’s jurisdiction (and perhaps beyond), should enjoy legal protection from a wider range of ministerial employment-related claims as a result of the decision. Such worshipping bodies may continue to lean into their sincerely held religious beliefs as a strong basis for their important employment-related decisions. But this decision intensifies a split among the federal courts of appeals, which may lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling with further clarification. The following paragraphs provide some background to the decision, analyze the court’s reasoning, and discuss implications for religious employers and further court proceedings.

Employment and COVID-19 Shots: Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

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May employers legally require COVID-19 shots for all employees? According to updated guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the answer is yes: employers may legally require all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. On the other hand, the Biden administration just directed federal agencies to neither mandate shots nor require related disclosures from federal employees. And, as the New York Times recently reported, some states are pushing back on vaccination mandates.

Of Safety and Second Chances: Applying Illinois' Amended "Ban-the-Box" Law to Child Safety Screening

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Is the Illinois’ Employee Background Fairness Act a game-changer for nonprofits’ child safety screening? This new law, passed earlier in 2021, makes it a civil rights violation for employers to reject applicants or otherwise take adverse action against employees based on their criminal convictions. But thankfully, and sensibly, nonprofits that provide children’s programs, such as schools, sports activities, and childcare services, are fully able to consider individuals’ criminal records in assessing their suitability for working with children. Organizational leaders should now do so more thoughtfully with respect to their employees, and with continued complete discretion for their volunteer workers.

Employee or Independent Contractor? New DOL Guidance Now on Hold

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When are workers “employees” and not “independent contractors”? Three key points apply here. First, no bright-line rule necessarily exists; rather, facts and circumstances are always important. Second, the answer may depend on context – payroll tax, overtime and minimum wage laws, workers’ compensation coverage, etc. Third, careful evaluation may be warranted, depending on specific worker situations per these variables. This legal area just got a little more complicated, with the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) January 2021 final rule now placed on hold by the new Biden Presidential Administration.

Employment-Related Religious Rights and Responsibilities: EEOC

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How do religion and the workplace fit together? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for handling employment-related religious discrimination claims, just updated its Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination to extensively address this question in terms of both employers’ and employees’ legal rights. Among other things, the Manual defines religion itself, addresses important employment exemptions, and explains key concepts like harassment and required “reasonable accommodation.” The Manual also works through employees’ religious rights in the workplace, such as taking religious holidays, wearing religious garb, displaying religious symbols and literature, and sharing religious views with others.

Home Office Expenses: What You Need To Know

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many people are still working from home. This arrangement raises important questions. May employees take advantage of tax breaks related to having a home office? Must the employer pay for the expenses of setting up a workspace at the employee’s home? What related information should employers and employees be aware of? Workers may be able to obtain tax deductions or tax-free reimbursements from their employer due to working at home, but they have to meet specific requirements as follows.

Legal Compliance for Out-of-State Remote Workers

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COVID-19 has made working from home commonplace, with many identifiable benefits from operating with a mostly remote workforce.  Since COVID-19 relegated workers across America to home offices, nonprofit and other employers have realized significant costs savings with a smaller office footprint and also greater opportunities for attracting top-tier job candidates outside their ordinary geographical reach. Such benefits may transform remote work from a temporary solution, to address for workers’ health and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, into predominantly more long-term remote work arrangements. 

Year-End Deadline for Illinois Sexual Harassment Training Program

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Employer alert: If you run a nonprofit or business of any size, make sure to comply with new anti-harassment training requirements by year-end 2020. Just over a year ago, this new requirement was signed into law, as an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act. All Illinois employers of any size must now provide annual sexual harassment prevention training and maintain related records reflecting compliance.  

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