Question: Do employers need to provide a space for employees to worship and/or pray in the office?
Answer: The short answer is: Maybe. Employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. For decades, courts held that employers could deny such requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if the accommodation would impose more than a “de minimis” cost or burden. In June 2023, however, the U.S. Supreme Court “clarified” that standard. In Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court held that employers can deny requests for religious accommodation only if the accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of [an employer’s] particular business.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has provided similar guidance, stating that employers should not try to suppress all religious expression in the workplace.
With that in mind, if an employee or group of employees ask for a place to worship or pray in the office, employers should assess the request as they would any other accommodation. For example, if conference room or other office space is available and employees are able to otherwise perform their essential job functions, then allowing them to use the space for worship or prayer may be appropriate. That is especially true if the company allows employees to use office space for other non-work related reasons. If an employer essentially treats the request differently because the employees will be using the space to worship or pray, that will likely pose a risk of violating Title VII.
Of course, it is important to ensure that participation is voluntary, and those who choose to participate – or abstain – are not subject to any harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. If employees attempt to impose their religious beliefs on coworkers, the employer might face claims from those employees.
These situations are never easy. It is important to balance everyone’s interests and ensure all employees are being treated fairly and in compliance with the law.