We saw the U.S. Supreme Court issue a unanimous decision this past June, a rare occasion indeed. In Groff vs. DeJoy, the Court addressed the question of how far an employer must go in accommodating an employee’s religious needs.
Gerald Groff was a postal worker who, for religious reasons, objected to working on Sundays. He was initially allowed to trade shifts with other employees, but the demand for Sunday workers increased after his post office branch began Sunday delivery of packages. Groff still refused to work Sundays, and disciplinary actions ensued. Eventually Groff resigned, then sued the Postal Service for discrimination. The Postal Service defended its actions, saying that accommodating Groff’s request created an “undue hardship” greater than the law required it to bear.
The Postal Service relied on a 1977 case that suggested an “undue hardship” was anything more than a minimum expense or effort. The Court rejected the Postal Service’s argument, ruling that “... an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
The Court’s decision essentially created a new, higher religious accommodation standard, although not one as strict as the accommodation standard found in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will undoubtedly spark new lawsuits, and the lower courts will have to interpret and apply the high court’s ruling. In the meantime, employers should proactively train managers and human resources about the new standard. The attorneys of Wright Beamer stand ready to assist. You can reach us at 248.477.6300.