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  • Writer's pictureLeslie A. Farber

Do Religious Workers Deserve More Time Off?


delivery trucks at loading warehouse

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a former Pennsylvania mail carrier’s employment discrimination claim against the U.S. Postal Service in a case that could force employers to do more to accommodate the religious practices of their workers.


The plaintiff, Gerald Groff, is an evangelical Christian who was disciplined for repeatedly refusing to work on Sundays, when he observes the Sabbath. In his role as an auxiliary mailman, Groff’s job was to fill in when other workers were not available, including on weekends and holidays.


Although he was not initially asked to work on Sundays, the situation changed when the Postal Service contracted with Amazon to deliver packages, including on weekends. His managers were able to meet his request for an accommodation until July 2018, after which he faced disciplinary actions if he did not report to work. Groff resigned in 2019 and subsequently sued the Postal Service for not doing enough to accommodate his request.


The case centers on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and other factors including race, sex and national origin. Title VII requires employers, upon request, to reasonably accommodate employees whose religious beliefs, practices or observances conflict with work requirements, unless the accommodation would create an “undue hardship.” Religious accommodation requests may relate to work schedules, dress, or religious expression in the workplace. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination has similar protections.


In a 1977 case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, the Supreme Court

interpreted Title VII in setting limits to the accommodations that employers were required to make on behalf of employees whose religious views limited their work on the Sabbath. The court determined that “undue hardship” constitutes anything imposing more than a minor cost. Therefore, an accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of work.


In the Groff case, a federal district court judge found that the Postal Service had provided a reasonable accommodation and that offering anything more would cause undue hardship to the employer and his co-workers. In a May 2022 ruling, the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.


Groff’s attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to overturn this precedent, arguing that the 1977 ruling is not sufficiently favorable to employees and allows religious needs to be supplanted by the interests of employers. Instead, companies should be required to show a “significant difficulty or expense” before denying an accommodation.


The case raises the question of whether or not religious workers are more legally deserving than others to have more time off. Unions representing postal workers have urged the justices to consider the hardship that religious accommodations have on co-workers who, for example, lose out on a day to rest or spend with family when they have to cover gaps in shifts.


On the other hand, groups representing religions that are in the minority in the United States, including Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, have supported Groff, saying they are disproportionately denied religious accommodations.


The decision is still pending, but the Supreme Court – with its conservative majority – has established a track record of expanding religious rights. The Biden administration has urged the high court to simply clarify that an employer is not required to accommodate an employee’s Sabbath observance by “operating shorthanded or regularly paying overtime to secure replacement workers.”


If you have questions or concerns regarding employment discrimination, please contact us at 973.707.3322 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.


The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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