On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Groff v. DeJoy that made it more difficult for employers to deny religious accommodations requested by employees.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Under Title VII, employers must reasonably accommodate all aspects of an employee's religious observance or practice that can be accommodated without creating an undue hardship for the business. Previously, the lower courts had interpreted an earlier Supreme Court decision to mean that a requested accommodation was an “undue hardship” if it would impose more than a “de minimis” burden on the business. If the accommodation would require more than a minimal cost to the business, it was considered an undue hardship.
The new Supreme Court decision revises the “undue hardship” analysis to mean that employers may deny the requested accommodation only if they can prove it would result in substantial increased cost for the business. This new interpretation essentially eliminates the “de minimis” analysis.
In the Groff case, the U.S. Postal Service had denied a worker’s request not to be assigned to package deliveries on Sundays because his religion prohibited him from work on Sunday. The USPS denied the request on the grounds that it would be required to shift resources and assign other workers to fill in for Groff, necessitating overtime and potentially violating a collective bargaining agreement, thus creating an undue hardship on the USPS. The lower courts had agreed with the USPS position. The Supreme Court, however, said that the lower courts incorrectly used the “de minimis” analysis to determine undue hardship, and that those courts must reevaluate the case using the correct analysis.
The Groff case now makes clear that “undue hardship” requires a showing of something more than mere inconvenience or minimal cost to an employer. The hardship must result in a substantial increased cost in the context of the particular business. As a practical matter, larger employers will have a more difficult time of showing undue hardship, as they are better able to absorb the cost of an accommodation.
John Falcone and Luke Malloy handle employment law matters at PLDR Law. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about this matter.