By Dan Gephart, October 2, 2023
During Pride Month this year, a group of employees at a tech firm were frustrated by what they deemed was their employer’s “overt” LGBTQ advocacy. The employees, members of a faith-based employee resource group, considered a walkout. Here’s what happened next, per a New York Times article:
An adviser to the Christian affinity group, who requested anonymity to preserve his professional relationships, counseled the frustrated employees to consider how such an event would affect their L.G.B.T.Q. colleagues. The walkout never happened.
Maybe it’s just me, but I found this story uplifting. And hopefully, it portends a more inclusive and less combative workplace. If nothing else, the Times article, which I highly recommend you read, highlights the growth of religious expression in the workplace. And with that growth likely comes more requests for religious accommodation.
When discussing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) strategies, we often talk of the dual goals of allowing people to bring their “whole selves” to work and ensuring that the Federal workplace reflects the diversity of the country it serves. OPM has defined workforce diversity as “a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively.” OPM’s list of these characteristics is long and not all-inclusive, but mentions religion along with race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures.
In recent years, employees have been more open about their faith in the workplace, much of this trend fueled by a number of religious-themed Supreme Court decisions.
For FELTG Nation, the most important of those decisions was Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174 (June 29, 2023). In this case, a USPS mail carrier requested to be excused from working on Sundays because his religious beliefs required a day “devoted to worship and rest.”
The agency argued allowing the employee to have Sundays off would require it to pay overtime to other employees, which would be an undue hardship. The Sunday work was required following a partnership with Amazon. Groff was disciplined for refusing to work on Sundays as ordered. He resigned.
Employers are required to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer. The threshold for “undue hardship” has always been lower than that for disability accommodation, but in Groff the Supreme Court, in its own words “clarified the Title VII undue-hardship standard” to raise it above the de minimis threshold.
Faced with an accommodation request like Groff’s, an employer must do more that conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options would also be necessary.
FELTG Instructor Bob Woods called Groff “an important decision,” but told FELTG President Deborah J. Hopkins he doesn’t “think it will have a significant impact on Federal agencies” because agencies are generally more than willing to accommodate employees in their religious accommodation requests.
However, Deb and Bob agree the decision should prompt agencies to review their religious accommodation procedures and policies to ensure they’re appropriately determining if an accommodation request would create an undue hardship.
To get up to speed on religious and other accommodations, join us on Tuesday, Nov. 7, for Up to the Minute: The Latest Changes to Reasonable Accommodation for Pregnancy, Disability, and Religion – a two-hour virtual training program. If you’d like training on religious protections for your agency, contact Info@FELTG.com and we’ll let you know what we can do. Gephart@FELTG.com