The Supreme Court of the United States Changes Standard for Religious Accommodation

It is against the law for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on religion. Both federal and state laws prohibit employers from making adverse employment decisions based on an employee’s or job applicant’s religious practices, beliefs, or identity. This means that an employer cannot, for example, refuse to hire anyone because they do not share their faith or promote only people who hold certain religious beliefs. State and federal laws also require employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices. The only time an employer is excused from accommodating an employee’s religious practices is if doing so would pose an undue hardship.

Since 1977, courts have relied on the case Trans World Airlines v. Hardison to rule on what constitutes undue hardship for purposes of religious accommodation. Since 1977, courts have relied on this case to find that anything “more than a de minimis cost” consists of undue hardship. De minimis means something so small that it is not worth noticing. Following a June 2023 court decision, employers now have a greater burden when demonstrating undue hardship. The “more than a de minimis cost” standard was replaced by a greater standard. In Groff v. Dejoy, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that before turning down a request for religious accommodation, an employer must demonstrate that the accommodation would result in substantially increased costs. Even when a requested accommodation would result in such costs, an employer must evaluate the feasibility of alternative accommodations.

Background of the Case

In the case of Groff v. Dejoy, the plaintiff who worked for USPS requested a religious accommodation that would allow him not to work on Sunday. The former USPS employee claimed working on Sundays was against his religious beliefs. Initially, the former USPS worker could avoid working on Sundays by covering other shifts during the week without being disciplined. However, things changed after the volume of Sunday deliveries increased. The employer rejected the plaintiff’s request for accommodation and claimed that covering the plaintiff’s Sunday shifts was a great burden. The plaintiff was progressively disciplined because of his absences, and although he was not fired, his employer’s actions forced him to resign.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against USPS, claiming that it violated the law by failing to accommodate his religious practices. While the lower courts sided with the employer on the basis that reasonably accommodating the plaintiff’s religious practices would create “more than a de minimis cost,” the Supreme Court rejected this standard in a unanimous decision. According to the Supreme Court, the lower courts were wrong to interpret the meaning of ‘undue hardship’ as calling for a de minimis standard. The Supreme Court ruled that this is a very low standard. According to the Supreme Court, the de minimis standard arose from one line in the 1977 case that was taken out of context.

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that for an employer to be allowed to reject a request for religious accommodation, they must show that a religious accommodation would result in substantially increased costs.

Contact Us for Legal Help

If an employer has refused to reasonably accommodate your religious practices, contact our New Jersey employment lawyer at the Trabosh Law Firm to learn about your legal options. 

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