Ariens, a Wisconsin manufacturer of snowblowers and gardening equipment, has fired seven Muslim employees, and 14 others have resigned, over a disputed policy that forbids prayer breaks throughout the workday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting.
In the past, Ariens has tried to accommodate the needs of its Muslim employees, allowing them to take breaks to pray, but is now sticking to a policy that allows only two ten-minute breaks per shift. This means that the company’s 53 Muslim employees — largely immigrants from Somalia — have had to choose between keeping the tenets of their faith (Muslims are required to pray five times per day) or adhering to the rules of their workplace.
At issue for Ariens is whether or not allowing Muslims to step back from the production line to pray would be disruptive to the manufacturing process. The Muslim employees have insisted that allowing them to step away to pray would not be a significant disruption to the factory. Ariens, however, says otherwise: with more and more Muslims entering the company’s workforce, allowing all Muslim employees to pray several times per shift could cost the company millions of dollars in productivity annually.
Thirty-two of the manufacturer’s Muslim employees have agreed to abide by the rules and keep their jobs. Fourteen resigned in protest. The remaining seven have been fired.
— Green Bay Press-Gaz. (@gbpressgazette) February 4, 2016
In a statement, the company said that it has done its best to accommodate its Muslim employees, and that it respects their decision to leave their jobs in order to keep their faith practices.
“We handled this with the same straightforward approach we use every day at Ariens Company. Recognizing there are language barriers and cultural differences, we allowed for extra time. We would have liked for more of the employees to stay, however, we respect their faith, we respect the work they have done for Ariens Company, and we respect their decisions.”
Ariens is not the first workplace to find itself in a dispute with Muslim employees over prayer breaks. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, a similar dispute over Muslim prayer breaks came to a head at a Cargill meat-packing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado, just a few weeks ago. About 500 workers at the plant — almost a quarter of the plant’s work force — are Muslim, and similar to the Ariens employees, are mostly Somali immigrants. Cargill, like Ariens, had allowed Muslim employees to step away from the production line for prayer, but was unable to accommodate allowing all Muslim employees to do so, several times per shift, without significantly harming production. Ultimately, about 150 Muslim employees were fired.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must make “reasonable” accommodations to the religious needs of their employees, provided those requests don’t put undue hardship on the employer.
In both the Cargill case and the Ariens case, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has tried to intervene.
— Embassy Row (@EmbassyRow) December 16, 2015
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says that the group may appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of the fired Muslim workers.
“We have several options on the table, and we will look at all of them. I think the EEOC is one of the first moves that we normally make.”
Do you think Ariens should have done more to accommodate its Muslim employees and their need for multiple prayer breaks throughout the work day? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
[Image via Shutterstock/Jasminko Ibrakovic]