January 13, 2023

Some Pray for Changes to Religious Accommodation Rule

On January 13, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case asking two key questions about what is/not a reasonable accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for religious observance.

  1. Should the de minimis rule be changed to a stricter standard?
  2. Should the assessment of undue hardship on the conduct of the
    employer’s business include merely showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s co-workers rather than the business itself?

Title VII’s Undue Hardship / de minimis rule
. The term “undue hardship” is used in reference to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as Title VII.  But the meanings are quite different.  The threshold for reasonable accommodation under Title VII is significantly lower than under the ADA.  As mentioned above, if the accommodation imposes anything more than a de minimis burden on the employer, then it imposes an undue burden, becomes unreasonable, and the employer need not provide it.  Should this standard be raised to a higher threshold like the ADA?

A burden on whom? Often the hardship in question is one imposed on one or more coworkers, rather than directly on the employer. Such is the case when an employee requests that one or more coworkers work the employee’s shift or a portion of the shift that the employee cannot work due to religious observance. Must the employer direct those coworkers to work the additional time over their objection or would that be unreasonable?

In the interim, stay tuned, review your reasonable accommodation procedures, related policies, and talk to your company’s employment counsel.