KANSAS – The Kansas Attorney General advises employers “that they must not inquire into the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief” when the employee claims a religious waiver from a COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s release comes a day after Governor Laura Kelly signed a new law in response to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which has been halted in courts. Once signed, the law became effective. It requires exemptions and eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Schmidt Explains the New Law
According to Schmidt’s Office, the law:
“..requires all employers, public or private sector, to accommodate employee requests for relief from COVID-19 vaccine requirements on the ground that the requirement would violate a sincerely held religious belief of the employee and forbids employers from “inquiring into the sincerity of the request” by the employee.”
Schmidt noted that some employers have been requiring employees who claim a religious waiver to complete detailed questionnaires designed to gather information for use in evaluating the sincerity of the employee’s religious beliefs.
“For example, some questionnaires asked how long the employee had held the particular belief and requested documentation of the existence of the employee’s faith and of how tenets of the faith precluded COVID-19 vaccination. In at least some cases, public employers also established review committees or procedures that would evaluate an employee’s response and determine whether the employee had sufficiently demonstrated a “sincere” religious belief that would justify granting the waiver.”
Those sorts of inquiries and discretionary determinations are now illegal in Kansas, Schmidt said.
“In Kansas, an employee’s religious faith may not be put on trial in order to obtain the waiver to which the employee is entitled by law,” Schmidt said. “It is particularly distressing when a public-sector employer – an agent of the government – sits in judgment of the sincerity of an employee’s religious faith. Under the new law now in effect, that is not only distressing, it is also illegal.”
Schmidt plans to directly contact public-sector employers that he is aware may be in violation of the new law. He plans to advise them they must immediately cease and desist any illegal procedures. He announced he’ll also tell them to properly grant employee requests for religious waivers.
“The purpose of this new law is to protect workers, not to punish employers,” Schmidt said. “We seek compliance, not punishment. So I encourage all Kansas employers, whether public or private, to immediately review their policies and procedures and conform them to the requirements of the new law in order to respect the religious liberties of Kansas workers as the law requires.”
Schmidt encouraged all employers to immediately review their procedures for receiving and granting employee requests for religious waivers from COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Under the new law, if an employee feels wronged, they can file a complaint with the Kansas Department of Labor. An employer who is found in violation and does not correct it could face “substantial civil penalties.”
Gov. Laura Kelly’s Statement
“I have been clear that I believe it is too late to impose a federal standard. States have been leading the fight against COVID-19 for nearly two years. I know there are Kansans who believe this legislation goes too far, and there are others who believe this legislation doesn’t go far enough. But I was elected to lead, and leadership means seeking compromise.
“This bill is the result of compromise in action. Now that it is signed, we need to turn our attention towards pressing issues like growing our economy and passing my plan to Axe the Food Tax, so we can put money back into everyday Kansans’ pockets.”
Read the New Kansas Law
The Kansas bill that is now law passed during Kansas’ 2021 Special Session. You can read it below, or click here.
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