Gerald Groff began working for the United States Postal Service in 2012. At that time, there was no requirement that he work Sundays. When USPS started Sunday deliveries for Amazon, Groff requested, and received, a transfer to a small USPS station that did not make Sunday deliveries. But in 2017, his USPS station began doing Amazon deliveries. Groff refused to work on Sundays and received progressive discipline for failing to do so. In 2019, he resigned and sued under Title VII, claiming that USPS could have accommodated his sabbath worship without “undue hardship.”
Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s practice of religion. In 1977, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, which, for the past 45 years has been used by courts to interpret “undue hardship” in the context of religious accommodations as any effort or cost that is “more than … de minimis.”
In Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court clarified its decision in Hardison, threw out any reliance on the de minimis test, and ruled that an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless it can show that accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” The Court pointed out that the words chosen by Congress, “undue hardship,” mean more than a “burden,” and even more than a “hardship” alone – rather, to deny accommodation, an employer must show that accommodation creates a hardship that is “excessive” or “unjustifiable.” In short, “’undue hardship” is shown when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.’”
For employers, Groff means that requests for religious accommodation must be given more deference. It is not enough to show the request will impose somewhat on other employees or require more in the way of creative scheduling or slightly increased costs. These “burdens” won’t be enough. The test is “undue hardship” and that is much more than de minimis.
If you would like more information about the Groff decision and what it means for your workplace, please contact David Barton firstname.lastname@example.org or Linda Bird email@example.com or your favorite attorney at BurnsBarton PLC.