Supreme Court Paves the Way for more Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

Date   Jun 30, 2023

Executive Summary: On June 29, 2023, the U.S Supreme Court issued a decision that broadens protections for workers seeking religious accommodations in the workplace. In Groff v. DeJoy, 600 U. S. ____ (2023), a unanimous decision, the Court rejected the “de minimis” test that has long been used to determine whether a requested accommodation would create an undue hardship on the employer and held that undue hardship now will be analyzed by evaluating whether granting the accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”


Groff involved a postal worker’s claim the United States Postal Service (USPS) violated Title VII by refusing to accommodate his request not to work on Sundays. The plaintiff, Groff, claimed his religious beliefs preclude him from working on Sundays. When he first began working for the USPS his job did not require Sunday work, but within a few years, that changed, and Groff was informed he would be required to work Sundays. Groff transferred to a smaller location that did not make Sunday deliveries, but eventually that location also began making these deliveries. Because Groff refused to work Sunday, his Sunday deliveries were either covered by other staff at his work location or by carriers assigned to the nearest regional hub. During this time, Groff continued to receive progressive discipline for failing to work on Sunday and, in 2019, he resigned.

Groff sued USPS under Title VII, claiming it could have accommodated his inability to work Sundays without undue hardship. The federal trial court ruled in favor of USPS, and the Third Circuit affirmed this decision. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case and, in doing so, clarified the standard for determining when a requested religious accommodation creates an undue hardship on an employer.

The Supreme Court Decision

In Groff, the Court rejected the “de minimis” test that had long been used to determine what accommodations an employer must make for religious workers. Previously, employers have understood that religious workers must be accommodated for their religious practices unless doing so would have created an “undue hardship” on the business. In 1977, the Supreme Court, in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, undercut this standard by ruling that, in the religious accommodation context, “undue hardship” meant that employers need not accommodate religious workers if the effort imposed more than a “de minimis” cost on their business. Applying this standard to Groff’s request, the Third Circuit determined that exempting him from Sunday work caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually “imposed on his co-workers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.”

Ruling that the de minimis standard undercuts the intention of Title VII and its protections for religious workers, the Court announced its new standard for religious accommodation cases – that is, “undue hardship” now means that an employer relying on this exception must show that the burden of granting the accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” The Court noted that “courts must apply the test in a manner that takes into account all relevant factors in the case at hand, including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, ‘size and operating cost of [an] employer.’”

Still, the Supreme Court’s ruling might not actually help Groff. USPS did make some accommodations for him—like initially allowing him to avoid Sunday shifts before staffing shortages—and his employer may have reached even this new heightened “substantial cost” standard. The Court explicitly noted that the lower court may ultimately find that the Postal Service met its duty to Groff and that this decision does not “foreclos[e] the possibility that USPS will prevail.”

But the question remains: how will lower courts interpret this new standard, and what accommodations must employers now make for their religious workers? The Court noted that it does not believe this decision will have a large impact on the EEOC’s regulations of workplace rights pertaining to religion. Specifically, the Court stated, “we have no reservations in saying that a good deal of the EEOC’s guidance in this area is sensible and will, in all likelihood, be unaffected by our clarifying decision today.”

The Bottom Line

It is reasonable for employers to anticipate increased requests from workers for accommodations related to their religious practices. However, today’s decision does not grant blanket acceptance of any request for religious accommodation. Employers should bear in mind that the “substantial cost” analysis will be influenced by the nature of their specific business, the specifics of the requested accommodation, and both the human and financial capital required to grant the request. In light of this standard, employers should closely consider any religious accommodation requests, document the determination of the cost associated with the request, and consider other alternatives that may not impose a “substantial” cost.

If you have any questions regarding the Court’s decision or the issues addressed in this Alert, please contact the author, Paige Lyle, Counsel in our Nashville office, at, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.

FordHarrison will be hosting a complimentary webinar on August 8, 2023 at 1:00 (EST) to provide an in-depth analysis of the potential impact of this decision on employers. To register, click here.