Another Heightened Bar for Employers- Religious Accommodations
Due to a recent holding, employers must modify their practices when evaluating requests for religious accommodations under Title VII.
On June 29, 2023, the US Supreme Court in Groff v. DeJoy held that an “undue hardship” for purposes of evaluating a religious accommodation request is no longer defined by the low threshold of a de minimus cost to an employer, but instead, defined as a substantial increase in cost in relation to the conduct of its particular business.
The Court came to the conclusion that an undue hardship requires a substantial burden “in the overall context of an employer’s business,” creating a fact-specific inquiry to determine whether a religious accommodation is an undue burden on an employer. The latter part of this analysis requires courts to take into account all relevant factors, including:
the particular accommodation,
the practicality of providing such an accommodation, and
the operating cost of the employer.
The Court set forth additional important considerations for the undue hardship analysis moving forward:
Although an accommodations impact on coworkers may be relevant, it is not determinative.
Bias or hostility to a religious practice or religious accommodation cannot serve as justification for finding undue hardship.
It is not enough that an employer assess the reasonableness of a particular requested religious accommodation; instead, the employer also must consider other possible accommodations that would not pose an undue hardship.
With the Courts adoption of a heightened standard for undue hardship, it’s no doubt employers will have a more difficult time denying religious accommodation request on the basis of undue hardship and will have to modify their practices accordingly. Accommodations that may have been denied prior to June 29, 2023 may now require accommodation.
Absent specific guidance on how to interpret the new standard, employers should consider conducting a review of current accommodation policies and procedures to make certain religious accommodation requests are evaluated under the new heightened undue hardship standard, and incorporate training for managers, human resource professionals and others who are involved in reviewing requests for an accommodation.
To discuss how recent changes may affect your organizations policies and procedures surrounding religious accommodations, or to inquire on organizational training, contact Executive Legal.