On April 18, 2023, the United States Supreme Court entertained oral arguments regarding an extremely important case that will provide employers with rules they should follow for granting workers religious accommodations. The High Court considered whether to maintain or revise the standard established by Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U,S. 63 (1977). In Hardison, the Supreme Court held that the standard for assessing whether accommodating a religious employee’s request is an “undue hardship” is whether it would require the employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost.” In a footnote in that decision, the High Court suggested that an employer need not incur substantial costs to accommodate an employee seeking a religious exception.
The facts of the case the Court considered are simple and straight forward. Plaintiff, Gerald Groff, a former United States postal worker, sued his employer for failing to accommodate his religious practice of not working on Sundays in observance of his religious beliefs. Although the United States Postal Services not deliver mail on Sundays, it does deliver packages for Amazon on Sunday.
The trial court held that exempting Groff from Sunday deliveries caused undue hardship because it negatively impacted Groff’s co-workers, who had to fill in for him. It may also require the USPS to violate a collectively bargained agreement. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled that the accommodation constituted an undue hardship because it disrupted workflow and diminished employee morale.
The issue in the Groff case is the definition of “undue hardship.”
It’s unclear when the High Court will issue a ruling in the Groff case. Stark & Stark will monitor the docket for this important decision.
In the meantime, employers should have religious accommodation request forms and policies. I recommend, at least for now, a more conservative approach because the current conservative make up of the High Court seems more inclined to expand the protections based upon expression of religion. Those policies will likely need to be revisited after the Groff decision is announced in the next few months.