Supreme Court redefines ‘undue hardship’ standard for Title VII religious accommodations

Close up of a man in a blue shirt unloading packages from the back of a vehicle

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heightened the standard for what qualifies as an “undue hardship” for religious accommodations required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it easier for employees to seek and obtain such accommodations. The unanimous ruling means that employers receiving requests for religious accommodations must carefully analyze requests—and must demonstrate a higher burden on business operations than previously required to deny requested accommodations.

Supreme Court rejects ‘de minimis’ standard

The case at issue involved an Evangelical Christian postal worker who requested that he not be assigned shifts on Sundays so that he could observe the Sabbath. As many employers already know, such requests must be granted unless they cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. Previously, courts interpreted the “undue hardship” standard to mean that employers could deny requests if granting them caused the employer to “bear more than a de minimis cost.” The Supreme Court disagreed.

Analyzing the plain text of Title VII, as well as nearly 50 years of precedent on the issue, the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the prior “de minimis” standard. According to the Supreme Court, the “de minimis” standard was too low and failed to offer the protections intended by Congress when Title VII was enacted.

Instead, the Supreme Court concluded that employers must now grant a request for religious accommodation unless granting a request would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of [the employer’s] particular business.” The Supreme Court offered little guidance on what this new standard means other than noting each request must be met with a “common sense” approach and a “context specific” analysis. The case was remanded to the district court to decide if the requested accommodation at issue qualified under this new standard.

What this new standard means for employers

In light of this change and the minimal guidance currently available, employers receiving requests for religious accommodations are encouraged to contact employment counsel for assistance. It is important that employers engage in the required “interactive process” to determine if a request qualifies as an undue hardship under Title VII. This now likely requires a more detailed analysis than before and may mean employers must grant accommodations they previously rejected.

Groff v. DeJoy, Postmaster General, No. 22-174 (2023)