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Supreme Court Case Bringing Together Multiple Religions

In April 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on an appeal from Groff v. DeJoy. To what degree should an employer be burdened by an accommodation of an employee's religious belief or practice is the question before the Court. The plaintiff asserted his religion precluded him from working on the Sabbath, which was Sunday. As the Post Office required service on Sundays in all local locations, it could not accommodate him. Title VII requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious beliefs and practices where they can do so without "undue hardship." The Supreme Court is considering what qualifies as undue hardship. In Trans World Airlines v. Hardison (1977), the Court set forth the standard on whether "undue hardship" requires an employer "to bear more than a de minimus cost." In a footnote, the Court noted an employer need not "incur substantial costs" to accommodate an employee.

As reported by The Washington Post, groups representing Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Seventh-day Adventist individuals filed briefs supporting the plaintiff in DeJoy. They believe the Hardison decision gutted Title VII's protections for religious accommodation. During the recent pandemic, Sikh workers had to shave their beards to wear N-95 masks, and some employers refused to accommodate requests for alternatives. The Jewish religion observes a Saturday Sabbath, and they often face pushback from employers on accommodating their specific needs.

Trade associations and labor unions argue changes to the law will necessarily place heavier burdens on non-religious employees who must cover the work and create an undue hardship on the operation of businesses. One group argues, "Religious freedom does not mean we can shift the burden of practicing our faith onto other people. Religious freedom has never been a license to harm others, in employment or any other facet of life." Given recent rulings by the Court, many watchers believe the Court will alter the standard in some way to favor religious accommodation.