A Wisconsin manufacturer’s decision to alter when Muslim employees were allowed to leave the production line for prayer is drawing national attention as the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the company to still allow prayer pending a resolution.
Brillion-based Ariens, which makes snow blowers and other power equipment, recently changed its policy regarding prayer. Employees are now asked 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 Council on American-Islamic Relations says the new policy means the employees are not able to pray “when the prayers must be made according to Islamic beliefs.”
“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,” said CAIR National communications director Ibrahim Hooper, calling on the company to allow the employees to continue to work until the issue can be resolved.
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).”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission includes causing a lack of necessary staffing and costing the employer more than a minimal amount as examples of more than a minimal burden on operation of the business.
A phone call and email to the EEOC’s media relations department were not returned Monday.
CAIR’s Minnesota chapter plans to meet with the employees on Monday and describes them as having been fired because of the decision. Ariens chairman and chief executive offier Dan Ariens disputed that characterization in a letter posted on the company’s social media accounts.
“We want to be clear that no one was terminated here,” Ariens wrote. “We are asking employees to use two scheduled breaks for religious oberservation, and are offering designated prayer rooms.”
Ariens also said the company is offering to look for other shifts that might better accommodate prayer obligations. He said the change affected 53 employees and 10 have said they will return to work under the new plicy.
“Let me be clear: we respect their faith, we respect the work they have done at Ariens, and we respect their decision regardless of their choice to return to work or not,” Ariens wrote.