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The U.S. Supreme Court Raises the Bar on Employers’ Denial of Employees’ Religious Accommodation Requests

11 Jul

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Update applicable to:

All employers

What happened?

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous decision in Groff v. DeJoy, which redefined the standard for employers when denying an employee’s request for religious accommodation.

What are the details?

The new standard states that employers must demonstrate that granting the accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of their particular business, as required by Title VII. This decision overturned the previous standard set by the 1977 case of Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, which considered any cost beyond a de minimis level as an undue hardship.

The case involved Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian, who objected to working on Sundays due to religious reasons. Initially, Groff’s job at the United States Postal Service (USPS) did not involve Sunday work, but USPS later began handling Amazon’s Sunday deliveries, requiring Groff to work on Sundays. Groff refused, leading to disciplinary notices and his eventual resignation. He sued USPS under Title VII, arguing that USPS could have accommodated his religious practice without undue hardship.

Both lower courts ruled in favor of USPS based on the Hardison standard, but Groff appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed that a new standard was needed. The Supreme Court held that the burden of granting a religious accommodation must result in substantial increased costs in relation to the employer’s business. It emphasized that courts should consider all relevant factors, including the specific accommodations requested and their practical impact on the employer based on its nature, size, and operating costs.

For more information, please see the links below:

Law Firm Breakdown/Summaries: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5           

SCOTUS Decision

What do employers need to do?

Employers should be aware of the following when considering employee requests for accommodation of a sincerely held religious belief or practice:

  • The de minimis cost test no longer applies to determine if the accommodation constitutes an undue hardship.
  • A higher standard is now in place that requires employers to show that a requested religious accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs” to the business. Employers should make sure anyone involved in consideration of religious accommodations are trained on this new standard.
  • Impacts on coworkers are relevant only to the extent such impacts affect the conduct of the business. A co-worker’s animosity to a particular religion, religion in general, or accommodations for religious beliefs does not constitute an undue hardship for the employer.
  • Employers should be prepared to show they have considered other accommodations even where the employee’s requested accommodation would meet the substantially increased costs standard.

Factors such as hardships on co-workers, supervisors, or increased overtime costs may not be sufficient grounds to deny accommodation requests, particularly for larger employers.

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This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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