For decades, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has provided broad protection for disabled federal employees when they request a reasonable accommodation, however, religious accommodation protection, not so much. Practically the EEOC and Courts would apply a different stricter burden for disability accommodation on the Agency called “undue hardship,” and a much lighter standard on the Agency to show harm in relation to religious accommodation referred to by the term “de minimus” standard.
What that meant practically was that for years when I saw a disability reasonable accommodation case cross my desk I would tell the client that the law was on his or her side. Meaning that the federal government as the fifth largest employer in the world (1st if you include the DOD) has a very hard burden to overcome to say that they do not have to accommodate a disabled employee. However, when it came to religious accommodation I was disappointed to tell the potential client that the standard of de minimum means just the opposite. In other words, disability accommodation cases were generally good cases and religious accommodation cases were a difficult fight.
All that changed today when the SCOTUS ruled 9-0 with Justice Alito writing the opinion. See Groff v. U.S. Postal Service, 123 LRP 19493 , No. 22–174 (U.S. 6/29/23), vacating and remanding 122 LRP 17891 (3d Cir. 5/25/22).
In the decision, The Court observed that the meaning of the words “undue” and “hardship” as they are used to defend the denial of religious accommodation under Title VII point to a greater burden than the “de minimis” standard.
It noted that the parties proposed different alternative language but concluded that “it is enough to say that what an employer must show is that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” It stated that in applying the test, courts must take into account the relevant factors in each specific case, “including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of an employer.”
If you are a federal employee and have requested religious accommodation or plan on requesting accommodation for your sincerely held beliefs or traditional religious practice and have been denied accommodation, please reach out to us online or call (800) 801-0598 today.