Religious Accommodations, the Supreme Court, and Your Company

Beth Dean 09.12.23
Weekly Tip Blog Header - 2023-09-12 Religious Accommodations

Employers Must Now Prove “Substantial Increased Cost” to Deny Religious Accommodation

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that employers must now demonstrate a substantially increased cost to deny an employee’s request for a religious accommodation. 

This ruling, which comes in the case of Groff v. DeJoy, clarifies the standard for “undue hardship” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion, race, color, sex, and national origin.

Previously, the standard for undue hardship was whether the accommodation would impose more than a minimal cost on the employer. This meant employers could deny religious accommodations even if they were inexpensive or easy to implement. The Groff decision changes this, requiring employers to show that the accommodation would impose a significant financial or operational burden on their business.

So, what does this ruling mean for employers? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be careful when denying religious accommodations. You must show that the accommodation would impose a significant financial or operational burden on your business.
  • Be more creative in accommodating religious employees. Consider alternative scheduling arrangements, job reassignments, or other accommodations that would not burden your business significantly.
  • Be more transparent in your decision-making process regarding religious accommodations. Document your reasons for denying an accommodation and be able to explain how the accommodation would have imposed a significant burden on your business.

Employers should take this opportunity to review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with the new standard. 

Here are some additional tips for employers:

  • Be proactive.
    Don’t wait for an employee to request a religious accommodation before considering how you will handle requests. Think through your company’s stance and create an unbiased handbook policy. Then, take each request on a case-by-case basis with the help of an HR pro or attorney. 
  • Be flexible.
    Be willing to work with your employees to find a solution that meets their religious needs and does not impose a significant burden on your business. There are often creative ways to accommodate religious employees that do not require a lot of time or expense.
  • Document everything.
    If you deny a religious accommodation, document your reasons for doing so and be able to show a significant burden or cost this would cause your business. This documentation will help you if the employee later challenges your decision.

The Groff decision is a significant development in the law of religious accommodations. For help applying this to your employees, please get in touch with an attorney and your HR Business Partner at Nextep.

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