Stronger Religious Accommodation Requirements Are Here — Are You Ready?


For decades, religious rights in the workplace boiled down to this legal jargon: Individuals are entitled to a religious accommodation for their sincerely held religious belief as long as it doesn’t impose an undue hardship on the organization.

Jargon-free translation: You are allowed to be an exception to an organizational rule on the basis of a religion as long as it isn’t too costly for the organization. This interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is known as the “de minimis cost test.” 

However, today’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Groff v DeJoy means employers are now required to provide accommodation unless it creates an undue hardship, or in other words, an “unjustifiable suffering” — a significant shift away from the “de minimis cost test.” 

Especially now that the legal expectation of accommodation has just increased, I encourage organizational leaders to be proactive in preparing for religious diversity and shifts to expectations of rights for religious diversity in the workplace. 

While you should certainly consult with lawyers for traditional legal advice, legal requirements are always the bare minimum — especially when it comes to supporting underrepresented or marginalized communities. Consulting Tri-Faith is putting you ahead of the curve in business practices for religious equity. Working with us helps to future-proof your policies, increase morale, and create an inclusive workplace.

Being prepared for religious diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only the morally right thing to do, but also necessary to reduce risk and to be legally compliant. At Tri-Faith Initiative we advocate for a dual approach — an accommodation approach and a normalization approach.

The accommodation approach is oriented around process and procedure to grant people exceptions to the rules of the organization. Organizations can have dress codes, expected days of work, general work hours, staff parties, and more, but in my experience, organizations are woefully undereducated, under-experienced, and underprepared to work with religious diversity in a significant capacity. 

In fact, most hiring managers and organizational leaders don’t realize that the Supreme Court set the expectation in EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch that organizational decision-makers must know enough about religious diversity to know whether they are discriminating. In other words, ignorance cannot be a defense in religious discrimination cases. This includes harassment, and does not require the employee to inform the employer that their actions are discriminatory.

I recommend, in addition to having clarity around religious accommodations in our organizations, that we move toward normalizing religious diversity.

Normalizing religious diversity looks like a culture where people can communicate their religious needs in appropriate ways – that employees need fewer accommodations in the first place because their experiences are “normal” in the workplace, and structurally integrated in such a way that allows them to make decisions for themselves. Normalization is the hardest work because it requires organizational-systemic choices that ensure that people of all backgrounds can be themselves.

Groff v. DeJoy was unanimously decided by a court that is currently divided on the basis of party, with the support of a wide variety of religious identities and communities from various walks of life. While some may be worried about a “religious takeover,” this opinion is a win for religious diversity, equity, and inclusion for all communities. 

The opinion mentions: “…a bevy of diverse religious organizations has told this Court that the de minimis test has blessed the denial of even minor accommodation in many cases, making it harder for members of minority faiths to enter the job market”

You are now required to accommodate unless it causes an undue hardship – in most cases, the court has disposed of the minimal cost component. 

Justice Alito, writing for the court, mentioned, “What matters more than a favored synonym for ‘undue hardship’ (which is the actual text) is 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.”

However, we don’t just want to accommodate people; that is the legal, bare minimum.

Organizations must understand that laws can always shift bit by bit. The legal expectation of accommodation has increased, and we can help you realign your organizational structures to be more inclusive and future-proof.

Tri-Faith has worked with many organizations in helping them prepare their policies, procedures, inclusion practices, equity mindsets, communications strategies, and client-centered approaches in order to create a community for all.

To start the process, call us or reach out via email for a meeting to discuss what kind of policies and procedures you have in place, any issues that you have or have not seen arise, a basic understanding of your workplace culture, and a plan of how we can move forward together supporting your organization to be inclusive for people of all religious backgrounds. 

Normalize inclusion – don’t be content with the minimum.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. 

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