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Supreme Court Rules that Employers Must Show Substantial Increased Costs to Legally Decline Employees’ Religious Accommodation Requests

Client Alert

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled in Groff v. DeJoy that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) employers must show, in order to decline religious accommodations, that the burden of granting religious accommodations to employees will result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of an employer’s particular business, thus amending the prior, simple standard of a “de minimis” undue hardship.

Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices unless doing so would impose undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business. Prior to this recent decision, in interpreting what undue hardship means, courts have repeatedly applied a “de minimis cost” standard. Under that standard, employers merely needed to demonstrate that honoring an employee’s religious accommodation would result in essentially any additional cost or hardship. Specifically, the Supreme Court noted that the de minimis cost standard could be satisfied in nearly any circumstance. The Supreme Court is now holding that employers must show an excessive or unjustifiable burden to legally decline religious accommodations.  

In navigating this tough new standard, it’s imperative for employers to understand the risks of declining or failing to honor employees’ religious accommodation requests. To demonstrate what does not count as “substantial increased costs” for employers, the Supreme Court explained that no undue hardship is imposed on employers by temporary costs, voluntary shift swapping, occasional shift swapping, or administrative costs. Consequently, employers who plan to deny an employee’s religious accommodation request must be prepared to meet the tough burden of proving the business would face substantial increased costs due to such accommodations.

In its decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that employers may not reject a religious accommodation due to hardship attributed to animosity towards a particular religion. Further, Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice, and not merely show that it assessed the “reasonableness” of a possible accommodation.

In all, employers must carefully assess and examine religious accommodation requests and note that substantial increased costs must be present to legally decline religious accommodations under Title VII. This analysis should be conducted alongside the employer’s employment attorney.

Should you have any questions concerning religious accommodation requests, please contact BMD Labor & Employment Partner and Co-Chair of its Labor & Employment Division, Bryan Meek, at bmeek@bmdllc.com. Thanks to Mercedes Sieg for her research and efforts with this Client Alert.


“In for a Penny, in for a Pound” is No Longer the Case for Florida Lawyers

On April 1, 2024, newly adopted Rule 1.041 to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedures goes into effect which creates a procedure for an attorney to appear in a limited manner in civil proceedings.  Currently, when a Florida attorney appears in a civil proceeding, he or she is reasonable for handling all aspects of the case for their client.  This new rule authorizes an attorney to file a notice limiting the attorney’s appearance to particular proceedings or specified matters prior to any appearance before the court.  For example, an attorney can now appear for the limited purpose of filing and arguing a motion to dismiss.  Once the motion to dismiss is heard by the court, the attorney may file a notice of termination of limited appearance and will have no further obligations in the case.

Enhancing Privacy Protections for Substance Use Disorder Patient Records

On February 8, 2024, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) finalized updated rules to 42 CFR Part 2 (“Part 2”) for the protection of Substance Use Disorder (“SUD”) patient records. The updated rules reflect the requirement that the Part 2 rules be more closely aligned with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) privacy, breach notification, and enforcement rules as mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020.

Columbus, Ohio Ordinance Prohibits Employers from Inquiries into an Applicant’s Salary History

Effective March 1, 2024, Columbus employers are prohibited from inquiring into an applicant’s salary history. Specifically, the ordinance provides that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice to:

The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board’s Latest Batch of Rules: What Providers Should Know

The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board has introduced new rules and amendments, covering various aspects such as CDCA certificate requirements, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, remote supervision, and reciprocity application requirements. Notable changes include revised criteria for obtaining a CDCA certification, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, and updated ethical obligations for licensees and certificate holders, including non-discrimination, confidentiality, and anti-sexual harassment measures.

Governor Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University Introduce the SOAR Study on Ohio Mental Illness

On January 19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University announced a new research initiative, the State of Ohio Adversity and Resilience (“SOAR”) study, which will investigate all factors influencing Ohio’s mental illness and addiction epidemic.