Although an employer’s obligations set forth by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission regarding the requirements for accommodating employee religious practices are clear, another employer has been threatened with legal action by Muslim employees demanding special treatment.

EEOC policy stating, “an employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer… [such as] decreased efficiency,” has come under attack as Muslims refuse to accept anything less than total accommodation, even if it disrupts the normal business activities of the company and in fact does cause “undue hardship.”

Wisconsin-based and family-owned Ariens Manufacturing has a long history of providing prayer time for Muslim employees, allowing them to hand off their job duties to a co-worker for two five-minute breaks during each shift to comply with the obligations dictated by their faith.

The company, which developed roto-tillers and snow-blowers as a way of diversifying when the its iron works foundry failed during the Great Depression, found itself suffering exactly the kind of hardship the EEOC regulations anticipated as time away from the production line and resentment among co-workers forced it to slightly alter its policy.

“We are asking employees to pray during scheduled breaks in designated prayer rooms. Our manufacturing environment does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production.”

An Ariens spokesperson said 53 workers are impacted by the change in policy, ten of whom have decided to stay on with the company and comply.

While the new policy still provides prayer time, dozens of Muslim employees are calling it religious discrimination and have walked off the job claiming that praying during meal time is not allowed for Muslims.

“If someone tells you, ‘You pray on your break,’ and the break time is not the prayer time? It will be impossible to pray,” said Masjid Imam Hasan Abdi, one of the company’s Green Bay employees.

Ariens released a statement indicating its willingness to work with former employees who wish to return, but reiterating that all workers will be required to comply with the new policy.

“We are open to any of the employees returning to work under the new policy or will look for openings in shifts that do not coincide with prayer time. We respect their faith, and we respect their decision regardless of their choice to return to work or not.”

Ariens said it worked hard to find a solution that would allow Muslim employees their prayer time while maintaining production line efficiency and not placing undue burdens on non-Muslim employees who were forced to pick up the slack created by their co-workers’ absence from the line.

Muslims are obligated by their faith to pray five times every day, with an additional prayer on Friday.



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