No more prayer breaks, U.S. company tells Muslim employees

From the New York Daily News

By Jason Silverstein

A manufacturing plant in Wisconsin has changed its prayer policy to prevent dozens of Muslim employees from worshipping on the job — and threatened to fire them if they don’t like it, workers said.

Ariens Company, a Brillion-based maker of snow blowers and lawn mowers, used to allow the 53 Muslims who work at its headquarters plant to take two breaks a day — for five minutes at a time — to fit in their ritual prayers, according to WBAY.

But that abruptly changed Thursday, when the company sent out a statement saying it “does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production” — even for prayer.

Furious Muslim employees said they can now only fit in daily prayers during their lunch breaks, which likely do not conincide with their prayer times. Muslim scripture requires five daily prayers, each at the same times every day.

Some workers said that when they complained, their bosses handed them unemployment papers.

“If someone tells you, ‘you pray on your break,’ and the break time is not the prayer time, it will be impossible to pray,” employee Masjid Imam Hasan Abdi told WBAY.

Another employee, Adan Hurr, told the station the rule is “absolutely discrimination on its face.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations agreed, calling for a compromise in a statement Saturday.

“These types of accommodation disputes can be resolved in a spirit of respect for constitutionally-protected religious rights and for the legitimate needs of both employees and employers,” the civil rights group said.

“We ask Ariens to revert to its previous policy allowing religious accommodation until a resolution can be reached that allows the workers to practice their faith and permits an efficient manufacturing process.”

But the company has not budged. Ariens reps did not return requests for comment from the Daily News.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission says that employers do not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if they “cause undue hardship” to the company, including a decrease of “workplace efficiency.” Muslim workers at the Brillion plant said other employees took over their tasks during their prayer breaks.

Brillion has several locations throughout the United States, as well as Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, and employs more than 1,000 people, according to LinkedIn. It’s unclear if the new prayer rule applies to all of its branches.

It’s also unclear if the company intends to place similar restrictions on other religious practices. A December post on the company’s website showed that employees were treated to Christmas party complete with a meal, decorations for the holiday and a “variety of ugly Christmas sweaters worn throughout the office.”

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