THE SUPREME COURT MUDDIES THE WATER ON RELIGIOUS ACCOMODATION
With some of the other Supreme Court decisions recently handed down, employers may have missed the Groff v. DeJoy case. In Groff, the Court essentially changed the standard for employers when dealing with employee requests for reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs. Unfortunately, they increased the burden for an employer to show that a requested accommodation would be an undue hardship.
Under federal law (Title VII) an employer with 15 employees is required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee when a work requirement conflicts with the employee’s sincerely held religious belief, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship to the employer’s business.
Since a previous Supreme Court case in 1977, an employer has been able to show that a requested accommodation would be an undue burden if it would require more than a de minimis cost. In Groff, the Court changed the standard, requiring an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious practice as long as the proposed accommodation does not create “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of the company’s particular business.”
The facts in the 1977 case, and Groff, dealt with an employee requesting to not have to work on their weekly day of religious observance. The specific factual issue in Groff was whether exempting an employee from Sunday work — requiring his co-workers to pick up the slack — constituted an undue hardship. The Groff court noted that “an accommodation’s effect on co-workers may have ramifications for the conduct of the employer’s business, but a court cannot stop its analysis without examining whether that further logical step is shown in a particular case.” Clarifying this point, the court noted that companies must explore other available options, and that “[f]aced with an accommodation request like Groff’s, it would not be enough for an employer to conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options, such as voluntary shift swapping, would also be necessary.”
Further, the court stated that “a hardship that is attributable to employee animosity to a particular religion, to religion in general, or to the very notion of accommodating religious practice cannot be considered ‘undue,’” meaning that even a co-worker’s objection to having to change their schedule to accommodate another employee is likely not enough.
So, an employer faced with a request for religious accommodation must now give much more thought to each such request. While the Court did not go so far as to raise the standard to that of an accommodation request under the ADA, a prudent employer should now take similar steps when evaluating a religious accommodation request. We can assist with that.