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Religious Exemption Requests for COVID Vaccine Prove to be Complicated

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Employers are dealing with more religious exemption requests from their workers as vaccine mandates take effect.

Legal experts say companies can ask a lot of questions and probe to determine if an employee's religious exemption request is sincere.

For employers, it can be an extremely complex legal issue.

Warriors star Andrew Wiggins' refusal to get vaccinated, and the NBA's rejection of his religious exemption request, have triggered new questions on how employers are handling these situations.

"The presumptions usually lie in favor of the employee. The employer really has to show the employee's beliefs are not sincere. That could be quite a burden, but certainly can be done," said labor attorney Bob Eassa of Duane Morris LLP.

Ahmad Thomas is the CEO of The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents more than 350 Bay Area companies, working to develop policy initiatives.

"Leaders running our largest companies believe that mandates and taking this proactive step to keep their employees safe is critical," said CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Ahmad Thomas.

United Airlines recently announced it will put employees who are granted religious exemptions, on unpaid leave.

Eassa believes wrongful termination lawsuits are on the way.

"These issues are going to be first impression cases because there is no precedent and will work its way up the courtrooms, to the appellate court, and I think all the way up to the Supreme Court. It could easily happen," said Eassa.

"It's hard to see any large scale type of approval from companies in my view, especially the most sophisticated larger companies around mass approvals for the religious exemption,"

Legal experts say employers must accommodate religious exemptions that allow people not to get vaccinated if it's sincere.

Sources tell KPIX-5, 190 law enforcement officers in San Francisco are seeking religious exemptions. It's unknown how many of those will be granted.

"Employers are walking down a slippery slope and we don't know which way it's going to go. They can be very reasonable and think they're doing what's in the best interest of the employee and employer without the knowledge of how the law will rule on this," said Eassa.

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