Members who have requested a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate are getting notification from the FDNY that their requests have been denied. The FDNY’s action is not the final word on the matter. Members may continue to pursue their claims but must take certain steps:
1. The member must file an appeal within 7 days of receiving the notification that the FDNY has denied the request.
2. The City has set up a single process by which an appeal may be filed – the appeal has to be submitted on-line at www.nyc.gov/vaxappeal. To submit an appeal, the member must have a work-issued email address. If the member does not have that address, the member must submit the appeal through the FDNY EEO office. The member should contact that office immediately, explain that she wishes to submit an appeal of the denial of a religious accommodation with respect to the vaccine mandate and furnish the appropriate information. In the event that the appeal is submitted by the EEO office, the member should demand a copy of what was submitted. The member should keep a record of her attempts to contact the EEO office.
3. In submitting the appeal, it is helpful to include any information that the member believes will support the claim, even if the member has not done so when first making the claim to the FDNY. Letters from religious leaders supporting the claim are helpful.
4. At the time the member submits the appeal, member will be asked whether she/he wants to submit the appeal to a City Panel or to an arbitrator. If the appeal goes to an arbitrator, the arbitrator will apply a standard in deciding the claim that has been found to be unlawfully narrow, and upon submitting the claim to an arbitrator, the member will have to waive her/his right to pursue the claim in another forum. For that reason, if the member is firm in her desire to pursue this claim, it will be better to submit the appeal to the City Panel. No waiver is required of the member who submits the claim to the City Panel. Thus, when the member is asked by the EEO office which appeal route she wants to take, she should state clearly that she wishes to go to the City Panel and not to the arbitrator.
5. If the City Panel denies the request for a religious accommodation, the member may file a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC. (The claim may also be submitted to the New York State Division of Human Rights, or to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, or may be filed directly in state court). The claim is (a) that the FDNY has mandated that the member take a vaccination, (b) that the member objected to taking for reasons grounded in a sincerely held religious belief, (c) that the member requested an accommodation that would have permitted the member to avoid being vaccinated, and (d) that the FDNY denied that request.
6. If the City Panel grants the request for a religious accommodation but the accommodation granted is unnecessarily harsh and unworkable for the member, the member may file a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC. In this instance, the claim is (a) that the FDNY has mandated that the member take a vaccination, (b) that the member objected to taking for reasons grounded in a sincerely held religious belief, (c) that the member requested an accommodation that would have permitted the member to avoid being vaccinated, and (d) and that the FDNY recognized that the member was entitled to a religious accommodation but only afforded the member an accommodation that was not a reasonable one. (Note, under the law, the FDNY is not required to afford the member the accommodation she/he wants, but is only required to afford her a “reasonable” one.)