Ariens fires seven Muslim employees for unscheduled prayer breaks

Muslim rights group considers legal action

Ariens Co., a Brillon-based manufacturing company, fired seven Muslim employees Tuesday for taking unscheduled prayer breaks.

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Ariens, which makes snow blowers and other power equipment, recently changed its policy regarding prayer and asked employees to pray only during scheduled breaks.

The company’s Muslim employees were previously allowed to leave the production line to pray two of the five daily prayers required in their faith.

The change affected 53 employees.

“For the last two weeks, we have been working directly with the 53 employees on an individual basis,” the company said today in a statement. “Thirty-two employees have chosen to stay with the company and work within the break policy; fourteen employees have resigned, and seven employees have been terminated for continuing to take unscheduled breaks.”

Jaylani Hussein, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Muslim Relations, said the group is “considering legal action” against Ariens.

“It’s really about religious rights at work and people need to put themselves in the shoes of these employees,” Hussein said. “This policy has not been fair to these employees and there hasn’t been any effort to change the break schedules.”

Hussein said he anticipates more Muslim employees will be fired from Ariens or quit in the coming weeks.

“We handled this with the same straightforward approach we use every day at Ariens Company,” the Ariens statement said. “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.”

Under federal law, companies are required to accommodate “an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship (more than a minimal burden on operation of the business).”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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