Unlike with daycare, preschools, and K-12 schools, Kentucky has no state laws providing workplace or college/university exemptions to vaccination requirements. However, there are two types of workplace exemptions under federal law: medical exemptions and religious accommodations/exemptions.
Does the 2021 RS bill SB8 grant me a conscientious objection exemption for a workplace mandate? No, it does not. Learn more about that here.
Some employers will have a specific process for requesting either type of exemption which may include workplace specific forms. Other employers, especially those who have never dealt with vaccine requirements in the past, may not have a specific process. Either way, you as the employee should start by inquiring with your human resources department or other appropriate workplace leader.
Because some employers are new to this process, they may not be aware of the federal laws that apply to workplace vaccine requirements. We recommend maintaining professionalism and politeness in all your communications with your employer.
If your employer has their own form, review it carefully. Use the form for basic information, but be cautious of questions that may be misleading or that imply you are giving away your rights. In most cases, we recommend attaching your own letter or statement rather than confining your answers to a small box on a form.
Medical exemptions fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), apply to companies with more than 15 employees, and almost always require a note from a licensed medical provider. If you think you qualify for a medical exemption, find out if your employer requires documentation from a medical provider.
It is exceedingly difficult to find a medical provider who will sign off on a medical exemption. Some providers are fearful that they will be subjected to discipline from their licensing body, although we are not currently aware of this happening in Kentucky. Some providers will only consider medical exemptions for contraindications indicated by the CDC. For the COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC contraindications are essentially limited to a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose or to one of the ingredients.
In a few situations, we are aware of employers dictating the conditions for which they will accept a medical exemption. We also have received feedback regarding Kentucky employers rejecting medical exemptions. Some employers may accept pregnancy or breastfeeding as a reason for a temporary medical exemption.
Religious exemptions fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
"The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business." 42 USC 2000e(j)
Under this provision, you are asking your employer to "reasonably accommodate" your personal sincerely held religious beliefs.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has very helpful information available here regarding religious discrimination. Here are a few excerpts, but we encourage you to look at the info yourself.
"These protections apply whether the religious beliefs or practices in question are common or non-traditional, and regardless of whether they are recognized by any organized religion. The test under Title VII’s definition of religion is whether the beliefs are, in the individual’s “own scheme of things, religious.” Belief in God or gods is not necessary; nontheistic beliefs can also be religious for purposes of the Title VII exemption as long as they “‘occupy in the life of that individual “a place parallel to that filled by . . . God” in traditionally religious persons.’” The non-discrimination provisions of the statute also protect employees who do not possess religious beliefs or engage in religious practices."
"Title VII defines “religion” to include “all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief,” not just practices that are mandated or prohibited by a tenet of the individual’s faith. Religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. Further, a person’s religious beliefs “need not be confined in either source or content to traditional or parochial concepts of religion.” A belief is “religious” for Title VII purposes if it is “religious” in the person’s “own scheme of things,” i.e., it is a “sincere and meaningful” belief that “occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by . . . God.” The Supreme Court has made it clear that it is not a court’s role to determine the reasonableness of an individual’s religious beliefs, and that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.” An employee’s belief, observance, or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief, observance, or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it."
"Religious beliefs include theistic beliefs as well as non-theistic “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” Although courts generally resolve doubts about particular beliefs in favor of finding that they are religious, beliefs are not protected merely because they are strongly held. Rather, religion typically concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.”"
To request a religious accommodation from a workplace vaccine requirement, you most likely will need to write a statement or letter detailing your personal sincerely held religious beliefs and why the requirement is contrary to your beliefs.
This is a personal statement, and you should NEVER copy language from another source or use a standard letter template. Use the resources that are available to guide you, but make the words your own.
Below is a list of resources that you may find helpful.
We have provided these resources as a curtesy to you, and make no claims as to their accuracy.
*Cait hosts regular in-depth webinars on how to write a successful religious exemption letter with information regarding various faith backgrounds. Check her social media for info on upcoming webinars.
National Vaccine Information Center
General workplace exemption information
Resources for Employees, COVID-19 Vaccine Employer Mandates - a list of resource links
Children of God for Life information on vaccines and aborted fetal cells if this issue is relevant to your belief system
Freedom of Religion - United Solutions (FOR-US) - Resources for military exemptions
If your request for a religious accommodation is denied, you may have grounds for legal recourse. Unfortunately, this likely means loss of your job in the meantime while you pursue this route.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of other attorneys licensed in Kentucky accepting these sorts of cases.