Islamic Group Files Federal Complaint to Force Company to Accommodate Muslim Prayer in Break Policy

Photo Credit: M. Hussain
Photo Credit: M. Hussain

BRILLION, Wisc. — A prominent Islamic group has filed a federal religious discrimination complaint against a Wisconsin-based lawn mower and snow blower manufacturing company in alleging that it does not provide “reasonable accommodation” for Muslim employees in its break policy.

Under the Islamic religion, Muslims are required to pray five times a day at specific times. But as previously reported, earlier this year, Ariens enforced its policy to require employees to stay on the production line at all times, except for during their two 10-minute breaks. A co-worker could fill in for them during the time that they were gone.

Ariens officials previously did not stop Muslim workers from walking away from the production line a third time during their shift to offer up prayers, but when the company saw that the third break was costing Ariens money, it put its foot down.

“On the economic hardship to the Ariens company, we’ve demonstrated that it’s at least $1 million in line stoppage per line whenever someone takes an unscheduled break,” CEO Dan Ariens told television station WLUK in February.

“We are asking employees to pray during scheduled breaks in our designated prayer rooms,” he also wrote in a memo in January. “Our manufacturing environment does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production.”

However, Muslims state that the policy violates their faith because 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.

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“These breaks that they were taking were very similar to the type of breaks that other employees were granted for using the bathroom, and normally they would leave one person at a time, which meant the operation would continue until that person returned,” also remarked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Jaylani Hussein.

According to reports, over 50 Ariens employees were affected by the decision to enforce the policy, and 32 opted to stay and comply with the rules. 14 decided to leave over the matter and seven others were reportedly fired due to noncompliance with the requirement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) threatened in February to file a federal discrimination complaint, and this week, it followed through with its plans. It filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and also asserted an infringement of the National Labor Relations Act.

“Ariens has clearly engaged in an unlawful pattern of discriminatory conduct against charging parties because of their Islamic faith, Somali national origin and race, in violation of Title VII,” a letter to the EEOC reads. “The outright refusal to entertain, discuss, or offer any reasonable religious accommodation options that would resolve the alleged workplace conflict is unacceptable and inconsistent with prevailing Title VII law and EEOC guidelines.”

CAIR asserted that Ariens allows unscheduled breaks for non-religious purposes, and therefore “failed to demonstrate that accommodating and granting charging parties similar breaks for religious purposes would cause an undue hardship, beyond de minimis cost, to the operation of its business.”

Ariens says that it is disappointed in the filing of the complaint as it believes it has balanced company interests with the needs of religious employees.

“We have had Muslim employees working for the company for nine years,” Communications Manager Ann Stilp told Bloomberg News. “We currently have 27 Muslim employees who continue to work here, and the company continues to accommodate them with prayer rooms. We respect their faith and we respect the work they do.”

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