In a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Groff v. DeJoy,[i] the Court has clarified decades-old precedent regarding an employer’s obligation to accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees.
The Court found that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), an employer is required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs unless doing so would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its business. This new “substantial increase” qualifier is a change from the Court’s prior standard which found accommodations imposing a “more than de minimis” cost on employers, to be an undue hardship.[ii]
Under Title VII an employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an applicant/employee’s religious observance or practice unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer’s business. Specifically, in Groff, the Court found the employer’s conclusion that forcing other employees to work overtime to accommodate Groff’s religious-based request would not be enough to constitute an undue hardship. Indeed, the Court opined that other options must also be considered. Confusingly, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance already requires an employer to consider more than financial considerations when conducting its undue burden analysis under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, “undue hardship” means that the proposed accommodation imposes a significant expense or difficulty when factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, the nature and structure of its operation, and the impact of the accommodation on operations must be considered. It is anticipated that the EEOC will modify its regulations and guidance in light of the Court’s clarification of the “undue hardship” standard articulated in Groff.
Without more information from the Court on what factual findings would constitute a substantial as opposed to a more than de minimis impact, employers should continue to follow EEOC guidance when it comes to providing a religious-based reasonable accommodation and determining what factors can be used to support an undue hardship determination. The following EEOC tips should help:
- Understand who the law protects – Those who have sincere religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
- Consider the request. Review each request individually and discuss the request with the applicant/employee to ensure an understanding of the request and to seek input from the individual as to their needs and possible accommodation suggestions.
- Provide an effective accommodation unless doing so would require substantial increased costs. Current EEOC guidance provides that “factors relevant to undue hardship may include the type of workplace, the nature of the employee’s duties, the identifiable cost of the accommodation in relation to the size and operating costs of the employer, and the number of employees who will in fact need a particular accommodation. Costs to be considered include not only direct monetary costs but also the burden on the conduct of the employer’s business.”
- Be receptive to additional accommodation requests as religious beliefs and work responsibilities may change over time.
[i] 600 U.S. ___ (2023).
[ii] The de minimis standard has been applied since the Court’s 1977 decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977).