Supreme Court Ruling on Religious Accommodations

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are required to reasonably accommodate all aspects of an employee’s religious observance or practice, provided that such accommodations can be made without imposing an undue hardship on the business. This means that employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, as long as doing so does not create significant difficulty or expense for the employer.


Here are some key aspects of religious accommodation in the workplace:

  • Protected Characteristics: Title VII prohibits discrimination based on religion, and it requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices. This protection applies to all employees, regardless of their religious affiliation or the absence thereof.
  • Sincerely Held Beliefs: To request a religious accommodation, an employee must have sincerely held religious beliefs or practices that conflict with a workplace requirement or policy. These beliefs can encompass a wide range of religious practices, rituals, or observances.
  • Reasonable Accommodations: Employers are obligated to engage in an interactive process with employees to determine suitable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations might include flexible work schedules, time off for religious observances, modifications to dress code policies, or changes in job duties, as long as they do not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • Undue Hardship: Employers can deny a religious accommodation if they can demonstrate that it would create an undue hardship. An undue hardship is a significant difficulty or expense that would disrupt the normal operations of the business. It is generally a high threshold and requires a careful assessment of the specific circumstances.
  • Interactive Process: Employers and employees are encouraged to engage in an open and constructive dialogue to find appropriate accommodations. This may involve discussions about the nature of the religious beliefs, the potential accommodations, and the impact on the workplace.
  • Confidentiality: Employers should maintain the confidentiality of an employee’s religious beliefs and accommodation requests to protect their privacy.
  • Retaliation Prohibited: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who request religious accommodations or exercise their rights under Title VII.
  • Training and Awareness: Employers should educate their workforce, including managers and supervisors, about religious accommodation policies and procedures to ensure compliance and promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.
  • Case-by-Case Evaluation: Each accommodation request should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as the specific circumstances and the nature of the accommodation can vary widely.


In the Supreme Court ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, issued on June 29, the Court unanimously held that employers can only deny an employee’s request for a religious accommodation under federal law if they can prove that it would result in a substantial increase in costs for the business. The decision emphasized that the hardship must be substantial, rather than minimal, for an employer to deny an accommodation request. This ruling marked a significant departure from the previous interpretation of the Hardison decision, which required employers to provide accommodation unless it imposed more than a trivial cost.

The case involved Gerald Groff, a former postal worker and evangelical Christian, who observed a Sunday Sabbath and did not work on Sundays. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) did not typically deliver mail on Sundays, but it had a contract with Amazon that included Sunday deliveries. USPS sought voluntary co-workers to cover Groff’s Sunday shifts and imposed disciplinary measures for his absences, ultimately resulting in his resignation.

The lower courts had ruled that exempting Groff from Sunday deliveries caused undue hardship because it negatively impacted his co-workers and could violate a collectively bargained agreement. However, the Supreme Court clarified that employers must consider other options when faced with an accommodation request, such as shift swapping, offering incentives, or coordinating with nearby facilities to find alternative workers.

This ruling sets a higher bar for employers to deny religious accommodation requests, making it more challenging for them to refuse such requests without demonstrating substantial increased costs. It also clarified that the hardship must be based on practical business considerations and cannot stem from religious intolerance.

The decision has implications for various faiths that observe specific days of rest and may require accommodations. It’s important for employers to be aware of their obligations under Title VII regarding religious accommodations and to approach such requests with sensitivity and a commitment to finding reasonable solutions that respect employees’ religious freedoms while maintaining the functioning of the business.

Employers are now expected to be more accommodating and may need to adjust their practices to comply with this ruling to avoid potential legal challenges and expensive litigation. Additionally, employers should provide training to employees responsible for reviewing religious accommodation requests to apply the new standard effectively.