BRILLION, Wisc. — Dozens of Muslims in Wisconsin are reportedly now out of a job after officials at a lawn mower and snow blower manufacturing company changed its prayer policy to disallow prayer breaks other than at meals.
Ariens had previously allowed workers to walk away from the production line twice during a shift to offer up two of the five prayers that they are required to pray each day at specific times according to the Islamic religion. A co-worker could fill in for them during the five minutes that they were gone.
However, Ariens recently changed its policy to require employees to stay on the production line at all times, except for during their lunch break.
“We are asking employees to pray during scheduled breaks in our designated prayer rooms,” it said in a memo. “Our manufacturing environment does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production.”
Muslims state that the new policy violates their faith because now they will not be able to pray at the specific times required in Islam.
“If someone tells you, ‘You pray on your break,’ and the break time is not the prayer time, it will be impossible to pray,” Green Bay Masjid Imam Hasan Abdi explained to local television station WNCN.
“So they say, ‘If you don’t pray at the break time,’ they give us this [unemployment] paper to just leave,” former employee Ibrahim Mehemmed also told the outlet.
Over 50 Ariens employees were affected by the decision, and according to reports, 10 so far have opted to stay and comply with the new rules.
“We are open to any of the employees returning to work under the new policy or will look for openings in shifts that do not coincide with prayer time,” President Dan Ariens said in a statement. “We respect their faith, and we respect their decision regardless of their choice to return to work or not.”
He said that the company has sought to understand Muslim practices and has not fired anyone over issue.
“Our staff is committed to providing a great place to work for all employees and have met with members of our Somalian employee group to better understand their needs. We consulted with local representatives who are of Muslim faith to help provide sustainable solutions,” Ariens said. “We want to be clear that no one was terminated here.”
The federal Equal Opportunity Commission outlines that “an employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer,” resulting in “decreased efficiency” on the job.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking Ariens to allow employees to continue to leave the production line during the prayer times while a solution is reached.
“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,” spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a press release.
Last month, 150 Muslims were fired from the Cargill meat plan in Colorado after they protested officials who made a similar decision to ban employees from leaving the production line. After not showing up for work for three days straight, they were terminated.