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Muslim Workers Sue Wisconsin Company Over Religious Freedom

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Represented by CAIR, Somali employees claim right to take time off for prayer throughout work day

Muslim employees of a US-based manufacturer are asserting their right to take time off throughout the day for prayer.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a religious discrimination complaint on Tuesday against Ariens Co., which manufactures snow blowers and lawnmowers at a plant outside Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The company fired seven of its Muslim employees in January, and another 14 resigned, after the company told Muslim workers they should stop taking an extra break for prayer, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

The company had hired the workers, Somali immigrants from Green Bay, several months earlier and accommodated them with both prayer rooms and a bus service to help with the 40-minute commute. A dispute arose in January after the non-Muslim workers complained the Somali workers were taking extra breaks for prayer time, sometimes without communicating with supervisors. The company told workers to stick to two 10-minute breaks, and 53 workers walked off the job in protest.

Muslim beliefs require five daily prayers, spaced throughout the day, and many Muslims adjust their prayer times to accommodate work, school, or travel. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires employers to accommodate a religious practice such as prayer unless it causes the company “undue hardship” by decreasing “workplace efficiency.”

“Unless they can prove ‘undue hardship,’ and that is definitely what is at the heart of the matter,” then the policy change is illegal,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director told The Christian Science Monitor in January. “What one company thinks is an undue hardship is not actually. It is always a matter of debate and compromise.”

The workers offered to take their third break without pay, the Monitor said, but the company was concerned about the cost of work stoppages.