Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brillion, Wisconsin-Based Ariens Co. Refuses to Allow Unscheduled Prayer Breaks for Muslim Employees

Catching local headlines recently is a Wisconsin company, Ariens Co., based out of Brillion, Wisconsin that previously allowed for dozens of its Muslim employees to take unscheduled breaks for prayer and recently 'changed' this practice and is requiring enforcement of its actual written policy of only two, 10-minute breaks per work shift.  The "change" in the policy affected 53 employees, and one article says that ten of these employees wished to continue working for Ariens under the 'new' policy.  The story broke on about January 17, 2016 and in an article posted yesterday, Ariens is stating that they will not allow unscheduled prayer breaks.

Under current state and federal law addressing religious accommodation, an employer or other covered entity is required to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.  Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.

As you can see from the two articles, Ariens is attempting to state how the unscheduled prayer breaks serves as an undue hardship and causes "more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business" when they say that:
"...if even one person walks away from their work station, it can disrupt production.
"If I am on a team of 10 assemblers, and two of them clock out for a prayer break, all 10 people have to stop," Ariens said.
Over a period of a year, that would cost the company more than $1 million in lost time, according to Ariens.
"And that's if these are five minute breaks. If you are going to leave your work station in a plant that's 360,000 square feet, walk to the bathroom to wash your feet, take your time to pray, get dressed again and get ready to go back to work, it's very difficult to do in five minutes," [Dan Ariens, the company's president] said."
This is certainly an interesting issue and it'll be interesting to see if this goes to litigation or if the company and its employees can come to a compromise short of litigation.

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