An Islamic group has filed a complaint for religious discrimination against a Wisconsin company on behalf of 15 Somali Muslims who were terminated for failing to follow break policy.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) lodged the complaint before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Milwaukee against Ariens Company in Wisconsin.
In the complaint, the fired workers said Ariens, which makes lawn mowers and snow blowers, discriminated and retaliated against them on the basis of their religion (Islam), national origin (Somali) and race (black) in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
They also accused the company of creating a hostile work environment.
Islam requires Muslims to pray at designated hours five times a day. Ariens implemented a policy that only allows employees to have two 10-minute breaks.
The company previously allowed the workers to take three breaks to pray, but it cancelled that particular policy after finding out that it cost the company money to implement.
"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, according to Christian News Network.
However, the Muslims complained that the new policy violates their faith as they are required to pray five times a day.
"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 told WNCN.
Before Jan. 25 this year, the day the new policy was implemented, Ariens allowed Muslim employees to individually leave their work stations to pray.
The complaint said allowing the Muslims to have breaks is the same practice used by employees when they request breaks for non-religious purposes including smoking, making a phone call and buying a snack.
Starting Jan. 25, the complaint read, Aries retaliated against the Muslim employees who requested for prayer breaks.
Each time a Muslim employee requested to leave his workstation for the prayer, the supervisors would allow them but when he came back, the manufacturing leader would issue a warning slip that said that "if you continue to violate the company policy and leave work without permission, you will be subject to discipline up to and including discharge."
Aries said it was disappointed with the filing of the complaint.
"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."