U.S. Supreme Court Bolsters Right of Employees to Request Religious Accommodations

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision yesterday that employers cannot deny an employee's request for a religious accommodation unless it causes more than a minimal hardship on the business.

In the case Groff v. DeJoy, the justices ruled in favor of a U.S. Postal worker who claimed that he could not work on Sunday due to religious reasons. In ruling against the Postal Service, the Supreme Court held that employers are required to accommodate religious beliefs as long as the accommodation does not impose an “undue hardship on the employer’s business.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, clarified that the term “undue hardship” as being more than a “de minimis” cost. The “de minimis” or trifling cost that the Supreme Court had defined in previous cases seems to have been discarded by Justice Alito. Instead, the opinion suggests that if an employer denies a religious accommodation, then the employer has the burden of showing that the accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs” for its business under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Experts say that this decision will be especially important for religious minorities such as Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and others who have in the past brought a sizable number of cases after being denied accommodations by employers. Other experts argue that the decision will be harmful because it could open the door to allow discrimination in the guise of religious freedom.

This unanimous decision by the court has drastically changed the “undue hardship” standard, and thus could make it easier for employees to secure religious accommodations in the workplace. Understanding how to implement religious accommodations for workers, as well as protecting one’s business from new hardships will be an important consideration for employers moving forward.

As always, it is important for employers to consult with legal counsel in order to better understand their ever-changing responsibilities.

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