In light of a recent United States Supreme Court opinion, your burdens as an employer to accommodate your employee’s religious beliefs and practices have increased. It is now much harder for a business with at least 15 employees to deny a religious employee whatever changes to their job duties, schedule or conditions that the employee wants.
The Groff case
In Groff v. DeJoy, decided on June 29, 2023, the Court adopted a higher bar for businesses to meet before they can deny a requested religious accommodation. Gerald Groff, a postal worker, wanted Sundays off to observe his religious beliefs. But postal workers deliver Amazon packages on Sundays on a rotating basis. He refused to ever work on Sundays, and other employees had to deliver his packages on his designated Sundays. He received progressive discipline over a long period of time for his continuing refusal to perform that job duty and eventually resigned.
Groff claimed in his lawsuit that the postal service could have accommodated his religious request to not work Sundays “without undue hardship to the business.” For 50 years, that term “without undue hardship” has meant that the employer didn’t have to change its practices to accommodate a religious request if the request required more than a de minimis or trifling inconvenience for the business.
The 2023 Supreme Court overruled 50 years of precedent and now defines “undue hardship” as a financial determination. According to the Supreme Court, you as an employer may only deny a religious accommodation request if you can show that the request would result in substantial additional costs to the company, taking into account to the size and operating costs of your business. So hardship on other employees, inconvenience, disruption to the smooth running of your business and other challenges are not important. And the Court also said that if one accommodation costs too much, the employer still has to look for other, less expensive accommodations that would satisfy the religious employee.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has always made it clear that infrequent payment of overtime to employees who cover shifts not worked by the religious employee is not considered an undue hardship. It appears that now even frequent overtime payments may not be enough to rise to the level of undue hardship for certain successful businesses.
The Court also said that co-worker hostility to the requested accommodation is insufficient to deny the change that the religious employee wants. So those coworkers of Mr. Groff’s who resented him not taking his turn in the Sunday delivery rotation were not an excuse for the employer to deny Groff’s demand that he never work on a Sunday.
If this sounds like you as an employer are required to give preferential treatment to religious employees, you have correctly interpreted the current Supreme Court, the same court that vehemently decreed that even considering race in college admissions, much less preferential admission on the basis of race, is illegal.
What Religious Claims are Protected?
And despite the Supreme Court’s favoritism towards Christianity, U.S. businesses have to accommodate all religions this way—Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Native American tribal religions, Voodoo, Druidism, Scientology, the Jedi religion, Rastafarianism . . . . The law protects all religious beliefs, including those that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or only held by a small number of people. An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that employee’s particular belief or practice. And it is up to you as an employer to now maneuver around all of the obstacles that this heightened religious accommodation requirement demands.Continue reading Employer Religious Accommodation Obligations Increase