Serrins Fisher LLP

Amendment of pray-on-the-job policy signals cries of religious discrimination

For many religious people, faith is an ever-present and guiding principle in their lives. In accordance with one's religious beliefs; an individual may dress a certain way, eat or avoid eating certain foods and engage in certain customs. For individuals who identify as being part of the Islam faith prayer is a central component of their religious practices.

According to Islam, adult followers have a duty to pray five times per day. The type and nature of the prayers must not only abide by and fulfill certain conditions, but, according to religious doctrine, prayers must also be observed at certain times throughout the day including once at midday and once during the late afternoon.

The issue of prayer times is central to a recent employment dispute between a Wisconsin manufacturing company and 53 Muslim employees who argue that the company is violating their rights and U.S. labor laws. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, executives at Ariens Manufacturing made the decision to amend the company's pray-on-the-job policy and only allow Muslim employees to leave the work line to pray during designated meal break times.

Muslim employees argue that the company's amended pray-on-the-job policy is discriminatory and violates U.S. employment laws which require employers to make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices. The company, however, argues that allowing employees to leave the work line during non-designated break times imposed an undue hardship and "decreased workplace efficiency."

Employees impacted by the policy change allege the company is attempting to capitalize on the recent surge in anti-Islamic sentiments in the U.S. to blatantly violate religious anti-discrimination and labor laws. To date, no lawsuits have been filed in this specific employment dispute although lawsuits have recently been filed in similar cases involving restrictions allowing employees to pray-on-the job.

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