Employers have been required to extend reasonable workplace religious accommodations ever since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such requests should only ever be denied when doing so would cause “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” But what does that mean, exactly?
Well as our Los Angeles employment discrimination lawyers can explain, since the late 1970s, courts have generally interpreted that to mean any employer effort or cost incurred that exceeded de minimis, or too minor or trivial to merit consideration. Admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar. So it’s long been pretty tough to successfully argue discrimination on the basis of failure to provide religious accommodations. But that’s about to change.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that picked that standard up off the floor. Justices asserted that an undue hardship in these cases should be defined as a burden that is substantial in the overall context of the business. There’s no clear, bright line rule, unfortunately. Determining whether a certain workplace religious accommodation imposed an undue hardship on the employer is a fact-specific determination.
In general, employers seeking to prove the requested accommodation would have caused undue hardship will need to show that it:
- Is at minimum, something hard to bear.
- Something that causes or entails suffering or privation/disadvantage.
- Extreme privation, adversity, or suffering.
Although that’s still pretty broad, the Court made it a point in Goff v. DeJoy to say that in the context of employee rights, undue hardship on an employer needs to amount to something more severe than “a mere burden.” It would have to be unjustifiably excessive.
In other words, it sort of puts the ball back into the employer’s court. If they deny a workplace religious accommodation, the onus will be on them to show why it was not reasonable for their operation to swing. The practical impact of the accommodation would need to be considered in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of the employer. Continue Reading ›