Two recent Supreme Court decisions have completely upended how employers have to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs and practices. First, employers must show significant economic costs impacting business before turning down a request for time off to practice one’s religion. This means an explosion of requests for reasonable accommodations, growing co-worker resentment and massive management headaches for employers. Second, the Supreme Court recognized a new religious free speech right that may mean workers can refuse to perform job tasks they deem contrary to their sincerely held beliefs. Turning down those requests will also require employers to show substantial economic impact.
EEOC complaints alleging religious discrimination, harassment and denial of reasonable accommodations for religious needs have skyrocketed almost 700% from 2,111 cases in 2021 to 13,814 cases in 2022! The federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII’s religious discrimination provisions is aggressively litigating cases involving turned-down accommodation requests and forced participation in employer-required religious meetings, prayer circles and other practices that conflict with some workers’ own religious beliefs and practices.
The key to navigating the new rules is a solid accommodation process that begins with the first request and ends with a carefully documented accommodation or denial designed to stand up to legal challenges. That process should also manage lingering co-worker resentment by offering incentives for voluntary schedule swapping and other assistance with managing competing time-off requests.