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  • Writer's pictureNik Soukonnikov

Supreme Court Upends Religious Accommodation Analysis, Increases Burdens on Employers

In today’s Groff v. DeJoy decision, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that employers will bear a greater burden to accommodate religious employees than they have previously. Employers must now accommodate an employee’s religious practice unless the burden of doing so is “substantial.”


Employers must now accommodate employees who are seeking accommodations for their religious practices unless the employer can show that “the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”


Previously, it was enough for an employer to show that accommodating the employee would cause it to incur some non-minimal costs or hardship. Today’s decision clarifies that the hardship of an employer must be substantial before it is freed from the burden of accommodating the religious practice of an employee who requests it.


What counts as ‘substantial’ will depend on the nature, size, and operating costs of the employer. What is clear is that employers may not take into account the impact an accommodation has on an employee’s coworkers unless the employer can show that those impacts “go on to affect the conduct of the business.” Even then, courts won’t consider employees’ unhappiness with the fact of religious practice or the fact that accommodations are required.


One last tip – it is no longer enough to consider the religious accommodation requested, show that it imposes substantial costs or hardship, and call it a day. Moving forward, courts will expect employers to consider other possible accommodations to an employee’s religious practice, even if they haven’t been specifically requested. This process is much akin to the interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).


If an employee asks for a religious accommodation – you will likely need to grant it (or some other more reasonable accommodation for the religious practice) unless you can show that any reasonable accommodation for the religious practice in question would impose substantial costs or other burdens on the employer that would actually affect the conduct of its business. You may also see employees reasserting requests for religious accommodations that were previously denied, taking advantage of the new, more generous legal standard.


These guidelines still remain to be developed and applied by the courts. Given the nature of the new test, if you think you may need to deny an employee’s requested religious accommodation, your best move may be to get in touch with your friendly neighborhood Bullard Law lawyer. The content of this Alert is provided for general information purposes only. It should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for consulting an attorney for legal advice.

 
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