Religion: To accommodate or not to accommodate?

Did you know that the standard for accommodating sincerely held religious beliefs in the workplace has changed? 

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employer must show an undue hardship that substantially burdens the employer’s business overall before denying an accommodation to an employee’s religious belief or practice. This standard is similar to what is required when accommodating an employee’s disability. 

The previous standard 

Previously, the standard for religious accommodations in the workplace was that the accommodation had to impose more than a de minimus cost on the employer for the accommodation to be denied. Now, employers have to show undue hardship to deny an employee a religious accommodation. 

What is undue hardship? 

The U.S. Supreme Court said that “undue hardship” is something “hard to bear” and “not just a mere burden.” It must cause substantial increased costs to the business when considering the employer’s nature, size, and operating costs. Co-workers’ preferences are not a factor. Nor is reduced employee morale or disruption to the workplace and workflow. 

The U.S. Supreme Court case 

In Groff v. DeJoy, an Evangelical Christian U.S. postal worker requested to be exempt from working Sunday shifts due to his observance of the Sabbath on Sundays. The employer argued that granting the accommodation would impose a burden on the employee’s coworkers and thus was an undue burden on the company. 

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected this argument. The Court held that, to be denied, an accommodation must impose an undue hardship on how the employer conducts its business, regardless of the effect of the accommodation on coworkers. One possible accommodation in this scenario would be voluntary shift-swapping among employees, perhaps with the use of incentive pay. 

Takeaway 

This new, higher standard requires that, before you reject a religious accommodation request, be sure you can demonstrate that the cost to the business would be excessive or unjustifiable. 

If you need help updating your policies on religious accommodations or accommodating religious beliefs or practices in your workplace, schedule a Strategy Session with us today. 

This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. Consult with competent local employment counsel to determine how the matters addressed here may affect you.

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