Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I was laid off due to the loss of revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic. I was wondering if my employer was hiring again (my same position) do I automatically get my job back?

– Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: I’m sorry to hear you lost your job. It’s a difficult situation that so many hard-working Americans know all too well.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee you will get your job back, even if your company is hiring for the same position. Unless you signed a contract or an agreement, employers are not required to rehire laid-off workers.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get rehired at your company. Employers frequently rehire laid-off workers for myriad reasons: It tends to be more cost-effective than recruiting and hiring someone out of network, and it also demonstrates loyalty to solid employees.

You don’t mention how long you were at your company, but when rehiring, many organizations consider an employee’s tenure, job performance, and whether the layoff was part of a reorganization or just a slowdown in business. Plus, it sounds like your layoff was due to the financial impact of COVID-19, not your work ethic or performance.

If you received a layoff notice, do your research. Check to see if it mentions anything about being rehired. I also recommend reaching out to the company’s HR team for additional guidance on rehire policies and practices.

Find out what the business practice is and if they plan to recall any workers. Share your interest in other opportunities within the organization, even if they may be a bit different from your prior role. This will demonstrate dedication – and that you’re flexible and agile.

And for some good news: We’re continuing to see more businesses reopen as the economy recovers. Keep your head up and don’t be too hard on yourself. I hope you can find a position that’s a good fit for you soon!

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Q:Can an employee cite a religious exemption to not wear a mask?  We currently have a mask and vaccination requirement for our staff and if someone is not vaccinated and there is an outbreak, they can be sent home for the duration of the outbreak. Can we do the same for those that claim exemption from masks?

– Anonymous

Taylor: Thanks for asking this timely question. Yes, an employee can cite a religious exemption to not wear a mask.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This would include their ability to wear a face mask.

That said, we’ve heard it from public health officials and key federal agencies: Wearing a mask is a critical way to mitigate the spread of the virus. It’s common sense for employers to encourage workers to wear protective gear – not only to protect themselves but others around them.

If an employee cannot or does not want to wear a mask due to a religious belief, I strongly recommend discussing this request with the employee and provide an alternative measure, if feasible. However, in some situations, requested accommodations may pose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. In those cases, you may not have to accommodate them.

Remember, though, if an employee claims religious discrimination, your organization may need to demonstrate the undue hardship to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which enforces Title VII.

Even though you may have a requirement to send someone home for not wearing a mask, I advise starting a candid conversation with them first, then decide a course of action. Maybe you can come up with a solution such as teleworking or a staggered schedule that enforces workplace health and safety concerns while bearing in mind the rights of an employee.

Be well!

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