In its recent unanimous decision, Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court addressed the standards for when an employer may deny an employee religious accommodations. Groff was an employee of USPS and an Evangelical Christian. Pursuant to his religious beliefs, Groff refused to work on Sundays. This was not an issue for Groff at USPS when he first began with them, but USPS later agreed to facilitate Amazon’s deliveries, requiring Groff to deliver on Sundays. Groff requested an accommodation for religious reasons excusing him from Sunday duties which USPS refused. However, Groff persistently refused to work on Sundays, resulting in his discipline and eventual resignation.
This case traveled up to the Supreme Court, giving the Justices the opportunity to revisit a supposedly long-settled and employer-friendly standard for denying an employee religious accommodations. Under Title VII, an employer may deny an employee’s request for religious accommodations if allowing that accommodation would cause the employer “undue hardship.” For nearly fifty years, “undue hardship” was widely understood as meaning that an employer could deny an employee’s request for a religious accommodation if implementing that accommodation would require the employer to bear more than a minor, or “de minimis,” cost. However, with this decision, the standard has greatly changed, resulting in a much more employee-friendly standard. Currently, an employer may now only appropriately deny an employee’s request for accommodations if the accommodation would “result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
While the Court established this new and significantly heightened standard, there remains some ambiguity as to exactly what an employer must show in order to deny religious accommodations. While an employer is not specifically required to show that the accommodation would result in “significant difficulty or expense” as required by the ADA, it appears that the Groff standard now more closely approximates the ADA rule than the former “de minimis” standard. It is unclear what it means for costs to be “substantially increased in relation to the conduct of [an employer’s] particular business,” though the Court did give some guidance. Importantly, some impacts that the accommodation has on coworkers may be relevant, but only those that go on to eventually affect the conduct of business. Troublingly, the Court did not elaborate on which impacts on coworkers qualify as those that further affect the conduct of business. The only insight that the Court provided on this point was that factors such as a coworker’s dislike of a religious practice and expression in the workplace or the mere fact of an accommodation will not be considered sufficient to create an undue hardship on the employer.