Amidst several divided opinions handed down last week, the Supreme Court released a unanimous decision in Groff v. DeJoy, a case concerning the obligation of employers to provide religious accommodations to employees. The Court held that an employer may deny an employee’s religious accommodation request on the basis of “undue hardship” only if it can show that the accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” The Court’s decision is significant, as employers of all sizes are often confronted with religious accommodation requests; perhaps most commonly to allow time off for religious observance or to modify dress codes and grooming policies.

The Groff Decision

The law at issue in Groff is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which makes it unlawful for covered employers “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges [of] employment, because of such individual’s…religion.” 42 U.S.C. §2000e–2(a)(1). A 1972 amendment to the statute further provides that employers “must reasonably accommodate…an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice unless doing so would create “undue hardship in the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. §2000e(j).

In the years since the 1972 amendment, courts and the EEOC have grappled with the meaning of the phrase “undue hardship.” Generally, the standard applied has been extremely employer-friendly—undue hardship could be proven by showing that a religious accommodation would cause the employer to “bear more than a de minimis cost.” Some employers have relied on this language to deny accommodations where it would cause nearly any operational inconvenience.

Groff was an employee of the United States Postal Service (USPS) who requested not to work on Sundays in order to observe the Sabbath. Although the request was not initially problematic because there is no mail delivery on Sundays, it became an issue when USPS began facilitating Sunday deliveries for Amazon. Groff received progressive discipline for refusing to work on Sundays, during which time USPS had to rely on employees from other locations and assign personnel not ordinarily responsible for delivering mail to cover Groff’s missed shifts.

After resigning, Groff sued under Title VII and lost based on the application of the “more than de minimis cost” standard by the District Court and the Third Circuit. Specifically, those courts found that USPS acted lawfully in declining to accommodate the employee’s Sabbath observance because doing so “imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.” 35 F. 4th 162, 174, n.18 (3d Cir. 2022).

The Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit’s decision and held that an employer can deny a religious accommodation request based on undue hardship only where it would incur “substantial increased costs” if the request were granted. The Court made clear that this is a fact-specific inquiry focused on “common sense” and the “practical impact” of the requested accommodation “in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of an employer.” The Court did not consider whether the standard could be met on the facts of Groff and returned the case to the District Court to make that determination.

The Court nonetheless provided guidelines for employers considering religious accommodation requests. For example, the Court made clear that the fact that coworkers find the requesting employee’s religious practices off-putting can play no role in the undue hardship analysis. As Justice Alito wrote, “a hardship that is attributable to employee animosity to a particular religion, to religion in general, or to the very notion of accommodating religious practice cannot be considered ‘undue.’”

The Court also noted that the fact that an accommodation might impact the requesting employee’s coworkers does not, by itself, constitute undue hardship. It is only when that impact actually has “ramifications for the conduct of the employer’s business,” that it is relevant to the undue hardship analysis.

On this point, the Court noted that employers must do more than consider the reasonableness of a particular accommodation. Thus, it would not have been enough for USPS to “conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship.” An employer in USPS’s position would need to consider the availability of other options, such as voluntary shift swapping, and the costs associated with them.


Employers should immediately review their religious accommodation policies and eliminate any references to the “more than de minimis cost” standard. They should also ensure that human resources personnel are trained in how to apply the new standard moving forward.

For questions concerning Groff or religious accommodation requests, please contact Jessica M. Baquet at or (516) 663-6506.