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Over at our sister blog, Employment Law Letter, my colleague Sarah Niemiroski and I have a recap of the important new Supreme Court case. No, not the affirmative action one (we’ll get to that in another post) but the one on religious accommodation, Groff v. DeJoy.

The gist of the decision is that employers should consider requests for accommodation on a case-by-case basis and weigh multiple factors with cost being one of them. As the court said in Groff: “We think it is enough to say that 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.”

Is that the end of it? Hardly.

I have little doubt that we’ll see a new wave of cases being filed that will try to parse out exactly what this means in practical application. Will we see more requests for accommodation? Perhaps. Aside from vaccine mandates, though, most employers only get a handful of religious accommodation requests each year and most of those have been easily addressed.

What we’re really left with from Groff is a series of questions that will be decided in the years ahead. As Justice Sotomayor notes in her concurrence, employers who want to say that a request constitutes an “undue burden” must show “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”

In Sotomayor’s view, “Because the “conduct of [a] business” plainly includes the management and performance of the business’s employees, undue hardship on the conduct of a business may include undue hardship on the business’s employees.”

But that’s not in the majority’s opinion itself, leaving the door open for lower courts to debate and discuss this further.

I’ve heard numerous questions from friends and colleagues in the last 24 hours on what happens next when one employee’s religious beliefs start to impact other employees. For example:

  • What happens when the employer gets its 4th request for a day off or a change in work schedule and the employer has already accommodated 3 employees for religious reasons?
  • Or what happens when three employees schedule their vacations and that the religious employee requests an accommodation on a day when the other employees were scheduled to be aware?
  • Will employers be expected to hire temps for requested days off?
  • Should employers deny an employee a paid time off day so another employee’s religious beliefs can be accommodated with a day off of their own?
  • How are requests from essential employees (like firefighters, police officers, health care workers) to be treated?
  • Suppose an employee says that their religious beliefs prevent them from working next to a transgender co-worker, what then? Or a gay customer? Do those requests need to be accommodated too and when does this cross the line into outright co-worker harassment?

For employers, the next year is going to be a time of adjustment to this new rule. Human resources staff should be informed and educated on these types of requests and employment counsel should be sought as employers engage in this new analysis.