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When Gerald Groff, an Evangelical Christian, began working for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 2012, he saw little conflict between his employment duties and his religious beliefs.  Rarely was he required to work on a Sunday, which was his Sabbath day of rest.

Soon, however, USPS began delivering Amazon packages on Sundays.  Groff subsequently transferred to a rural postal station to avoid Sunday deliveries, but his new office eventually began Sunday deliveries, as well.  When Groff refused to work on Sundays, he received progressive discipline until he eventually felt compelled to leave.

What stymied Groff was a Supreme Court standard more than four decades old.  In the 1977 case TWA v. Hardison, the Court ruled that anything more than a “de minimis” cost to an employer for a religious accommodation was an “undue hardship.”  This rigid test for religious exercise in the workplace left practitioners such as Groff with few options.

The change unanimously adopted by the Supreme Court in Groff v. DeJoy in June was a significant one.  According to the Court, it now “understands Hardison to mean that ‘undue hardship’ is shown when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.”  In other words, rather than inflate the disruption one employee’s religious observance might pose to a workplace, the Court now looks to the larger pattern of the employer’s business performance.  In the words of Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the Court’s opinion, a hardship is “something hard to bear,” or very burdensome, a standard that had not been met in Groff’s case.

The change necessitated by this decision will reverberate throughout religious communities, including those, such as Jews and Seventh Day Adventists, who may wish to refrain from working on Saturdays.  It also will impact those who may wish to cover their heads in the workplace, such as Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This momentous decision followed years of unsuccessful attempts to craft legislation, such as the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which would have replaced the de minimis test with an undue hardship standard similar to what the Groff case has provided.  Such efforts were opposed, however, by organizations that maintained such a law would permit employees to claim they do not need to comply with state or local civil rights laws.

The Groff decision, despite its unanimous vote, still leaves many questions.  The Court declined to determine what facts would meet the new undue hardship test and remanded the case back to the lower court to decide.  This could open the door to years of legal battles as courts attempt to apply this new standard.

In the meantime, though, minority religious communities can celebrate the important victory that the Groff case represents.  The decision not only enhances religious freedom in the workplace.  As Alito wrote, the old de minimis standard “has blessed the denial of even minor accommodation in many cases, making it harder for members of minority faiths to enter the job market.”  By upholding the principle that employers must respect the religious freedom of employees, the Supreme Court has laid down a marker that could facilitate a more religiously diverse, and accommodating, workplace.

Picture Rabbi Eric Fusfield is B’nai B’rith International’s Director of Legislative Affairs and Deputy Director of its International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.