By Alan Goforth
Both proponents and opponents of the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby contraception case agree on at least one thing: The case may be settled, but how it will play out in the workplace is far from certain.
The court ruled that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act prevents certain employers from being forced to pay for contraceptives they oppose for religious reasons. However, the definition of which types of corporations are excluded remains murky.
"Nobody really knows where it is going to go," said Richard Primus, professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan. "I assume that many more businesses will seek exemptions, not just from the [Patient Protection and] Affordable Care Act, but from all sorts of things they want to be exempt from, and it will put courts in a difficult position of having to decide what is a compelling government interest."
See also: Hobby Lobby and the future of religious exception
About 50 lawsuits filed by corporations nationwide, which were put on hold during the Hobby Lobby appeal, must now be resolved or re-evaluated. "We don't know ... how the courts will apply that standard," Primus said.
The decision also has ramifications beyond the courtroom. Even closely held companies with sincere religious beliefs must carefully consider the potential marketplace ramifications of crafting health-care coverage according to religious beliefs.
"Many owners of companies don't want to distinguish the difference between what's good for them personally and what's good for their business," said John Stanton, professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia. "I believe that if a business owner believes something is the right thing to do — more power to them. That's his business. However, he's got to be ready for the negative repercussions."
Eden Foods of Clinton, Mich., a natural-foods manufacturer, has filed a lawsuit and is balancing religious beliefs and business concerns. Since Eden initially filed its lawsuit last year over mandates to cover birth control in PPACA, some customers have taken to social media to express disapproval and outrage, even threatening a social boycott. However, the corporation also has gained new customers who support its stance.
"It's very conceivable they could lose business," said Michael Layne, president of Marx Lane, a public relations firm in Farmington Hills, Mich. "And they could lose employees, too."
Experts agree that the myriad issues raised by the Hobby Lobby decision could take a while to play out. "I think there will be a rush of litigation in the next year or two," Primus said. "I think that the exemptions are likely to get broader before they are limited."
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com