Supreme Court Alters “Undue Hardship” Defense in Religious Accommodation Cases

On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business. Prior to this decision, the undue hardship defense to providing religious accommodations had been defined as requiring a showing that the proposed accommodation in a particular case poses “more than a de minimis” cost or burden.

Although the Court in its decision noted that “a good deal of the EEOC’s guidance in this area is sensible and will, in all likelihood, be unaffected by the Court’s clarifying decision,” the new standard should be considered a higher burden than the previous de minimis standard. Employers must take into account all relevant factors in the religious accommodation at hand, including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of the employer’s business.

More guidance on the new undue hardship standard is sure to come, and we will continue to update you as it does.