DOH Issues DAL on Religious Exemptions and Vaccine

The New York State Department of Health (DOH/the Department) issued DAL DHCBS 21-13 today containing guidelines regarding religious exemptions to the state COVID-19 vaccine mandate in health care.

The DAL serves to inform covered entities that those workers who were previously granted religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate must receive one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by November 22, 2021, or have a valid medical exemption on file. Covered entities must ensure workers follow through with receipt of their second dose of two-dose mRNA vaccines.

While religious exemptions are not recognized by the Department, the DAL states that covered entities should have a process in place to consider reasonable accommodation requests from personnel based on sincerely held religious beliefs “consistent with applicable Federal and State laws” including those outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as other Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

As explained in a meeting with DOH late today, this means that covered entities may consider reasonable accommodations on religious grounds on a case-by-case basis. However, you are not required to grant any accommodations, and under NYS regulations, the only acceptable accommodation is to remove the worker from a “covered setting”.

As previously reported by HCP, DOH recently updated the FAQ document for the vaccine mandate. Access it here.

The FAQ states:

“…covered entities cannot permit unvaccinated individuals to continue in “personnel” positions such that if they were infected with COVID-19, they could potentially expose other covered personnel, patients, or residents to the disease.”

DOH officials were asked what the state can do to support providers who have lost a significant number of workers. Meeting participants also requested that the state consider an extension and/or a “grace” period regarding enforcement and subsequent fines.

HCP will update members if and when the Department addresses these and other concerns raised by stakeholders in this last-minute meeting.

Questions about the DAL can be emailed to: [email protected].