August 23, 2022

How Reasonable is a Reasonable Accommodation under Title VII?

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled that an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for an employee’s religious observance. An accommodation became unreasonable and one the employer would not have to provide if it imposed more than a de minimis cost on the employer.

In 1986, SCOTUS clarified that Title VII does “not impose a duty on the employer to accommodate at all costs.” A reasonable accommodation “eliminates the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices.”

On August 23, 2022, SCOTUS was again petitioned to address this issue after an employee was denied his request to not work on Sundays due to his religious observance. The District court found in the employer’s favor. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did the same noting, “Exempting [the employee] from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on [the employer] because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.”

The questions before SCOTUS are:

  1. “Whether this Court should disapprove the more than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing Title VII religious accommodations stated in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v.
    Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977).
  2. Whether an employer may demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s co-workers rather than the business itself.”

Stay tuned
.  SCOTUS has not yet answered the petition. The Court has the right to decline to hear the case.  If they do grant the petition, we likely may not have an answer until next March to June.

In the interim. Review your company’s policy on religious accommodation. If you do not have one, consider adding it to your employee handbook. Talk to your company’s legal counsel for guidance on what provisions such a policy should include, such as whom employees should contact to request an accommodation, inclusion of a no-retaliation provision, and more.

Next up!  Join FiveL Company September 28th webcast, “Faith, Religion and Workplace Accommodation.” $25 pp Pre-approved by HRCI and SHRM for 1.25 credits.