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Should religion be accommodated at work?
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Religion and work, a clash of cultures:
Tension came to a head at a Grand Island meatpacking plant in June, when Jama Mohamed said his desire for 10 minutes to pray at sunset was met with shouting.

After he left the production line and began praying, Mohamed said, supervisors took his prayer mat, pulled him up by his collar and sent him crying to a lead supervisor, who fired him.

"I told him, 'Look, I know I am in America and I know in America there is a freedom of religion for everybody to practice their religion. . . . And as long as you fulfill that — as long as you let me pray — I will always work for you,'" Mohamed, 28, said last week through an interpreter.

"And he said, 'No, that's not acceptable — your prayers are not acceptable here. You're here to work, not pray.'"
Solution?

I think there might be a solution by way of accommodation if the company really wanted to do that. But do you think the company owes Muslims a solution which accommodates their preferences or do you agree with the "you're here to work, not pray" dictum?

Why?
 
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It’s probably good to try to find a solution. Extremists wanting to push a "culture war" love stories like this. It feeds their propaganda that the west is anti-Muslim.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Agreed. There’s no reason a religious person can’t use the regular breaks to pray, and management should be able to flex just enough to allow enough breaks at the right time of day for muslims to pray. AFAIK it would only be 3 10-minute breaks at most. I work in an industrial environment in a muslim country, and it’s really not an issue here. They pray right at their workplace or a few feet away, or keep working and pray extra at the next prayer time (yes that is allowed). From the tone of the article it sounds to me like the guy was just trying to get his prayers in with the minimum of fuss.....but I guess it’s understandable that many Americans would have little time for that kind fo thing.
 
Written By: Blewyn
URL: http://
I agree. Not allowing one 10 minute break for prayers is... tacky...

All the guy wanted was one ten minute break added. Easy enough to do, I’d think...
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
If one is serious about freedom, one should be willing to accept the consequences that come with the exercise thereof.

See... the freedoms he’s talking about our freedoms from government reprisal. Not from social reprisal. Of course, that also implies that the company he’s working for is also not immune to social reprisal.





 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Well, if I am an employer, I am paying you to do Job X. When you apply for Job X, you should ask me if there is any give on the assembly line for you to take a ten minute prayer break at such and such time. If I say "No" then you have a choice to work for me or not. You should not come to work and assume that I, as a business owner in the business of making a profit, will just grant you such an exception without previous discussion. I hired you to do Job X, not pray. If that does not fit with what you want at your job, well, then I will miss out on the positive productive aspects you might bring to my workforce, and you can go find another job. There is no right to a prayer break, if I so choose to grant one, bully for me, if not, thems the breaks.
 
Written By: JamesT
URL: http://
Its the companies decision, yet as said before, its very tacky. 3 ten minute breaks a day seems way reasonable to me, for anyone, praying or not. Its just what a good employer would do if you value your employees. Yet its the companies decision, and its yours to berate the company for it.
 
Written By: josh b
URL: http://
I think there might be a solution by way of accommodation if the company really wanted to do that. But do you think the company owes Muslims a solution which accommodates their preferences or do you agree with the "you’re here to work, not pray" dictum
They can, but they don’t have to. Especially if other religions at that plant start demanding similar treatment.
It’s probably good to try to find a solution. Extremists wanting to push a "culture war" love stories like this. It feeds their propaganda that the west is anti-Muslim.
I love how you never try to see it the other way, how the Muslims are trying to make us accomodate them at every turn.

 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
The fact that CAIR is involved makes me quite skeptical of the complaints, and that the local union isn’t exactly jumping onboard is telling as well:
Dan Hoppes, president of Local 22 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said he sees regular lists of those fired from the plant. Nothing in those lists raised his suspicions, he said, but he said the plant — which employs about 3,000 people in all and about 150 Somalis — generally has high turnover.

Hoppes said prayer breaks are not part of the contract, but he said he plans to revisit the issue with plant officials when the contract is renegotiated in 2010.
It also appears that the company is trying to accommodate the Somalis:
A Minneapolis attorney for the Greeley, Colo.-based Swift said unscheduled breaks can force unplanned shutdowns of lines.

"That is a significant number of employees, and there is not much of a way to accommodate that consistent with keeping the production online," Donald Selzer said.

The complaint reprises concerns that boiled over in May, when 120 Somali workers abruptly quit when they were not allowed to pray at sundown. About 70 of them returned to the plant a week later, but union officials worried the issue would resurface as sundown inched later each day through the spring.

[...]

Selzer said three Somali workers were fired for walking off the line without permission, not for praying.

"These people are absolutely entitled to pray, and they should not be interfered with for doing so," Selzer said. "The only situations that I’ve been made aware of are people that walk off the job without permission, and that’s a different kind of an issue."

[...]

Kapitan said Swift rejected her group’s suggestion to allow the Somalis who work evenings to leave in small shifts to avoid disrupting lines. The prayer must be done within a 45-minute window surrounding sunset, according to Muslim prayer rules.

Selzer and Hoppes said the company suggested phasing evening workers to shifts earlier in the day that don’t interrupt prayer times.

"We’re perfectly happy to try to pursue that angle so that we don’t have this conflict," Selzer said, but noted many people prefer the second shift.
The conflict is a scheduling one. When 150 people have a break time that shifts every day, how is a highly routinized system supposed to deal with that? The Somalis complained about people taking bathroom and smoking breaks, but seems like a different animal — one or two people at time taking 3-5 minutes for a quick break does not equate to 150 people leaving the production line all at once (or nearly all at once). If taking a prayer break is of such high importance (which I don’t doubt), then why would the Somalis reject moving to a shift where the prayer break occurs at the same time every day? IMHO, negotiation involves both sides giving a little. I’m not sure what the Somalis are offering here.

In general, I don’t think employers should be required, under penalty of legal action, to accommodate religious activities at work. But it sure does seem like a good policy. If my place of work didn’t let me take off for Christmas or allow me to take a little extra time to go to church on Ash Wednesday, I probably wouldn’t work there, but that would be my choice. So, if the company wants to retain valuable employees who are also religious then flexibility in this area seems crucial.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
" or keep working and pray extra at the next prayer time (yes that is allowed). "

If so, problem solved.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
The trouble is that if you accommodate the prayer times by shutting your assembly line down, the next requests will likely include accommodations for foot washing (as in UMich-Dearborn) and storage areas for prayer mats, and later a room dedicated to the purpose of Muslim prayer. There’s no guarantee that it will end until the company fully accommodates Sharia.

And this guy has a fundamental misunderstanding of religious freedom when he says, ""I told him, ’Look, I know I am in America and I know in America there is a freedom of religion for everybody to practice their religion. . . . And as long as you fulfill that — as long as you let me pray — I will always work for you,’" Mohamed, 28, said last week through an interpreter."

This sounds like he thinks he is *owed* the accommodation and that’s simply untrue. Same thing for cabbies who don’t want to carry alcohol or seeing eye dogs... Where will it end? It seems more sensible to put a stop to it now.
 
Written By: Laura
URL: http://pursuingholiness.com
After he left the production line and began praying,
So, without permission, he decided to stop working.
said last week through an interpreter.
And he has trouble with English...

This could have been the last straw for all we know.

So, should blogging be an allowable activity at work. After all, I’m exercising my freedom of speech. So what if by exercising my freedom of speech, I am interrupting work and disrupting productivity.

In fact, shouldn’t the company be required to give me access to a computer, and bandwidth to do this activity.

(Written while at lunch...)
If one is serious about freedom, one should be willing to accept the consequences that come with the exercise thereof.

See... the freedoms he’s talking about our freedoms from government reprisal. Not from social reprisal. Of course, that also implies that the company he’s working for is also not immune to social reprisal.
Exactly, if Muslims don’t like a company because they don’t offer special prayer breaks, then they can bring attention to that fact, and boycott that company. Or start a competing business that offers the benefit.

And if we really believed in freedom, employers would be able to hire who they wanted, without someone looking over their shoulder if a potential employee is in a "special" class.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
The minute I get a chapel with a priest to say mass, or hear confession....

No - not even then.
I agree. Not allowing one 10 minute break for prayers is... tacky...

All the guy wanted was one ten minute break added. Easy enough to do, I’d think...


Added?

Pray on your regular fracking break. Adding a break isn’t equal treatment, it is special treatment.
 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://
I work for a large company. Our factory floor schedules breaks according to union rules and stock shortages. Workers have a "relief" guy sub in when they need to use the restroom outside of the normal breaks. If somebody goes off without getting a sub, the whole line will shut down. Naturally, that is bad. We lose mony every second the assembly line is not moving. There is inordinate pressure to produce goods as fast as possible. Also, we cannot accomidate one or two employee’s individual needs. When we hired them it was made clear that they must work their shift.

Moslems must realize that essentially, we must either shut down the line five times a day just to accomodate them, or hire a non-muslim relief force. The first is economically a poor choice, the latter is illegal. There are plenty of other workers willing to do the job without prayer breaks. Why should my company pay more for muslim labor?
 
Written By: the Brain
URL: http://
I notice it’s a meatpacking place. I think the foreman should have said, "OK, but we’re transferring you to the pork section."
 
Written By: Bilwick
URL: http://
"The complaint alleges that breaktime rules at the Swift & Co. plant violate civil rights laws by not allowing workers to leave production lines to pray at sundown."

and,

"Later sunsets run past evening breaks meant to keep workers from long stretches on production lines."

seems to point to the crux of the problems.

Some basic reminders of the labor rules first; general ones that might be slightly different in Nebraska. Lunch no less than one-half hour for those who work more than 4 hours a day. For each 4 hours of work, one 15 minute break is required. What I don’t know is whether there are timing rules and the flexibility of business to schedule them, although I am sure they can’t just schedule breaks for the beginning or end of 4 hours.

Now, what is the shift schedule at the plant, i.e., is it three shifts and what are the starting times? How does that fit into a sunset that, in six month intervals, changes from about 8:59PM CDT in June to 4:56PM CST in December?

Lastly, how is the break scheduled and does it require a person to take over responsibilities of the worker on break? It does appear so from the article. It also appears that the company accommodated the praying until they found out it will change every day in an average of one minute increments just about every day and may overlap things like start times, create extended lunch periods, etc.

It seems to me this may be a request that impinges significantly on plant operations and efficiency, not to mention the headaches of possibly changing break schedules for non-muslims so 150 Muslims all need a break at the same time on an ever changing schedule. If so, then I don’t see why the company should be legally required to accommodate it.

Now, if the Musims can compromise and take the break at the same time every day, year round, say, the sunset at the mid-point of the year, I don’t, offhand, see why the company can’t oblige.
 
Written By: Dusty
URL: http://
Darn, I didn’t consider the big one hour shift in sunset time, twice a year. I wonder if that causes additional difficulties or simplifies them for the company. Any guesses?
 
Written By: Dusty
URL: http://
Good points on assembly line situations. Ultimately there may be some jobs devout Muslims can’t do if they insist on prayer at the right time. Companies should probably try to accomodate, but if they can’t for legitimate reasons, then I don’t have a problem with a company firing someone. Though grabbing someone’s prayer mat and sending him crying to the supervisor is a pretty bad management technique, even for assembly line management.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The bottom line? It is the employer who determines what is or is not appropriate for the workplace, within the scope of appropriate safety and health requirements - Federal, state or local. If it is the employers choice to provide, then it is the employer who makes the decision - not the employee. The only exception to this is some sort of contractural provision for employees.

You don’t like it as an employee? You are free to find employment elsewhere.
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
SShiell — I think the debate isn’t just about what is legal, but what is, as Scott Jacobs put it "tacky." I agree that employers shouldn’t be required to allow prayer breaks, but as a general practice it would be good to try to work with employees if possible on accomodating their needs (just as Jewish people get to take Yom Kippur off, Sandy Koufax even messed up the Dodger starting rotation in the World Series for that). But if that can’t be done, yes, the employee has to look elsewhere.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"If my place of work didn’t let me take off for Christmas or allow me to take a little extra time to go to church on Ash Wednesday, I probably wouldn’t work there, but that would be my choice."

Actually, this is a perfect example. The goverment DOES mandate Christmas get special treatment: additional pay for having to work on a Holiday.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
I wonder if the real problem was the *mat*. Doesn’t sound like something that should be in a meat packing plant. Nor do I want someone on their knees in such a place and then returning to the line.

A solution could be to provide a place he could go to pray, but why should an employer have to provide a way to cater to his desires in this way?

I think the best answer would be that if he wants to go pray, he could do so silently or outside. As long as he is getting the job done. I don’t have an answer for inclement weather, though.
 
Written By: Gerry
URL: http://
Actually, this is a perfect example. The goverment DOES mandate Christmas get special treatment: additional pay for having to work on a Holiday.
No, the federal government has declared Christmas a national holiday (since Christians make up the largest portion of Americans by far, and wouldn’t go to work anyway), but that does not mean that my employer has to give me the day off or pay me extra. Ever go to a grocery store, 7-11 or bar on Christmas?

 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
A solution could be to provide a place he could go to pray, but why should an employer have to provide a way to cater to his desires in this way?

I think the best answer would be that if he wants to go pray, he could do so silently or outside. As long as he is getting the job done. I don’t have an answer for inclement weather, though.


You wouldn’t want them doing this on the production floor, but an employee rest area/break room/dressing room...

Good point about national holidays not being an automatic day off for everyone in the nation.

Another example, MLK day, many government workers have it off (police, fire, etc, may not,) many other companies do not give it as a holiday, but some employees may take it as a "floating holiday" if that is part of their compensation agreement.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
SShiell — I think the debate isn’t just about what is legal, but what is, as Scott Jacobs put it "tacky."
And I did no say or state otherwise. If an employer wants to ______ (fill in the blank) then that is the employer’s decision. My response was simply to leave it at the foot of the employer. Then it becomes dependent upon the potential employee to decide whether he wants to work under those conditions. And if he can’t or won’t - See Ya!
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
If we took all the days off for all religions and conducted business around all the various religious prayers, we couldn’t get work done.

This country grew up with certain conventions. With the exception of the slave trade, most immigrants came here voluntarily. They should accept our current conventions.

There’s nothing stopping an employer from accommodating them but the employer should not be compelled to accommodate them.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Do what you want on break or schedule your break to conincide with your issues, otherwise back to work.

So scott you’re saying you have no problem with a disruptive student. Say someone who has a scheduled nap time during your class, their grade would be unaffected by their snoring?

Some how I don’t think a crying meat packer is going to last very long anyway.
 
Written By: coaster
URL: http://
Inherent in all of this, is the question a special privilege, based on religion. For example; are special accommodations asked for, or received, designed around for example the Christian faith? Jews?



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
"I wonder if the real problem was the *mat*. Doesn’t sound like something that should be in a meat packing plant. Nor do I want someone on their knees in such a place and then returning to the line."

Good point. As unfamiliar as I am, thankfully, with the meat packing industry, I believe there are federal rules and regulations about cleanliness etc. From pictures I have seen the workers wear gloves, hair restraints, and other clothing designed to avoid contaminating the product. All the kneeling and such that I have seen done in connection with Muslim prayer would seem to violate these regulations and require the prayer to put on new protective garments, which increases the prayer time and costs. Kneeling on the floor next to a production line is also clearly a safety hazard, also a violation of federal, and possibly union, regulations. I speculate, of course, but it may be that this prayer break may take a bit more than 10 or 15 minutes, all things considered.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
In this "meat packing" situation, I wonder - Does the plant handle any portk products? If so, any guesses what the next accomodation will be?
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
My wife is the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, so I’m probably qualified to comment.

1. Orthodox Jews must start the Sabbath at sundown. As someone pointed out, that changes through the year. They must not work, and the definition of work is pretty broad: they have to get homes within walking distance because they can’t drive, etc.

2. The usual approach is to negotiate with the employer: I’ll work every Sunday, I’ll work on Christmas, or Good Friday, or Easter, I’ll work longer hours the other days, etc.

3. Not all Christian holidays (or other practices) are accommodated. My company doesn’t give me Good Friday off; I have to take vacation. And haven’t I seen various people such as Erb saying what a wonderful thing it is that Christian pharmacists should have to fill birth control or morning after pills? They can find another job.

 
Written By: SDN
URL: http://

 
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