US Supreme Court Revises Religious Accommodations Test
Managing religious accommodation requests from employees might seem straightforward, but last month, the U.S. Supreme Court changed how employers should view religious accommodation requests.
As a result, manufacturers and other employers should review and revise their policies and train managers and employees on how to handle such requests.
De Minimis Burden
Federal law has long governed religious accommodation requests, and up until last month, when an employer received a request for a religious accommodation, employers could plausibly reject the request if the employer could show that the accommodation would result in “more than a de minimis burden.”
This has had important modern implications.
Religious accommodation requests aren’t all that common. But recently, employers fielded religious accommodations requests when considering vaccination exemptions due to religious beliefs.
Employers used this “more than a de minimis cost” standard to evaluate such requests.
The standard for religious accommodation requests has been viewed as substantially different than the undue burden under other laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the new case, Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court expressly disavowed the “more than a de minimis cost” standard, holding that such a showing does not establish “undue hardship” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
So what does “undue hardship” mean under Title VII?
Rather than adopting the standard used for ADA cases outright, the court noted that “undue hardship” will be case specific.
The court went so far as to say, “we think it is enough to say that an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
At minimum, an undue hardship is something greater than hardship.
Ultimately, courts will have to evaluate the possible accommodation’s effect on “the conduct of the employer’s business” and ask if it is too much to bear.
Of course, an employer cannot deny a religious accommodation due to its own opposition to religious practice—that is, the concept of accommodating a religion cannot in and of itself be “undue.”
Does this mean that an employer must grant a religious accommodation request not to work on the Sabbath? Or that an employer must provide kosher food in the breakroom?
In practice, the application of this standard will require at least some helpful guidance from how employers consider requests for accommodations under the ADA, but it remains uncharted waters.
For now, manufacturers must be prepared to consider religious accommodations requests on a case-by-case basis and look at its own size, the costs, and other factors, to determine whether such requests are reasonable or an undue burden to the company.
And as noted above, reviewing existing policies and ensuring that managers and human resource staff are aware of the changes, are two items that should be on every manufacturer’s to-do list.
EXPLORE BY CATEGORY
Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests
The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.