US Supreme Court Rules on Employer’s Accommodations for Employee’s Religious Observances

What happened?

On June 29, 2023, The US Supreme Court published its ruling on Groff v. Dejoy, Postmaster General. This case is regarding an employee who believed for religious reasons that Sundays should be devoted to worship and rest and therefore they requested to have Sundays off from work. In response to this, their employer (the USPS) started disciplining this employee for failure to work on Sundays.

The employee eventually resigned and filed suit against the USPS under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employee alleged that the USPS could have accommodated their religious observations “without undue hardship on the conduct of [USPS’] business. The lower courts had ruled in favor of USPS since they felt “bound by” the Supreme Court’s ruling in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), in which the Court held that requiring the employer – there, an airline – to accommodate a worker’s Sabbath observation was unreasonable.

In this case, The Supreme Court clarified its stance by stating that Hardison has been unfairly reduced to a single, oft-quoted sentence: “To require [the employer] to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give Hardison Saturdays off is an undue hardship.”

What is required for religious accommodations now?

 The Supreme Court has now stated that an employer does not escape liability under Title VII merely by showing that an accommodation to an employee’s religious observations imposes some additional costs, but it must instead demonstrate that the “something hard to bear” is excessive or unjustifiable, such as “substantial additional costs” or “substantial expenditures.”

 In addition, The Supreme Court highlighted that Title VII requires an assessment of a possible accommodation’s effect on the conduct of the employer’s business. The impact of an accommodation on coworkers – such as the effect on morale from covering an employee’s shifts on his Sabbath – is only relevant to the extent that the effect on coworkers affects the conduct of the business. Hostility toward religious practices or accommodations is never a valid defense.

Finally, The Supreme Court reiterated that the goal of Title VII is to ensure that employers “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s practice of religion. Since the USPS only assessed the reasonableness of a particular accommodation and concluded that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship, it failed to consider other options (e.g., voluntary shift-swapping) that may have enabled their employee to observe his religious practices.

What does this mean?

The previous practice had been that if there is ANY imposition on the business that there was a legally sufficient reason for an employer to deny any requested religious accommodations of employees.

However, now for an employer to deny religious accommodations to an employee, the employer must show that they will incur a SUBSTANTIAL HARDSHIP to the conduct of their business. This is a much higher bar and harder for employers to prove so therefore it extends more rights to the employees to receive accommodations to their religious practices.

Have you or anyone you know wrongly had your religious accommodations denied by your employer? Contact the experienced lawyers at The Bourassa Law Group today to get help and ensure that your rights are protected.

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