Religious Accommodations: The Evolving “Undue Hardship” Standard
Article Written By Oliver M. Bauer
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s religious practices, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court clarified the undue hardship standard in religious accommodation claims under Title VII. Prior to June’s decision, the test for undue hardship in the religious accommodations context was extremely employer-friendly. Employers could deny religious accommodation requests if the accommodation(s) would impose “more than a de minimis cost.” In practice, employers could easily deny religious accommodation requests on the basis that it would impose some additional cost or inconvenience for the business.
Moving forward, the prohibition against religious discrimination, and the obligation of employers to accommodate the religious practices of employees, is now more in line with other Title VII protections. An employer must now show that the costs of an accommodation “rise to an excessive or unjustifiable level” to establish undue hardship. Undue hardship only exists if the burden is substantial in the overall context and conduct of an employer’s business. In other words, an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.
The Court’s decision leaves employers without clear guidance on how to apply this evolving undue hardship standard and creates uncertainty in the religious accommodations landscape. Because of this uncertainty, employers may want to err on the side of caution when responding to religious accommodation requests. If you have questions or need guidance with regards to a religious accommodation request, please contact Attorney Oliver Bauer.