Dozens of Muslims unemployed after Wis. company adopts new prayer rules

(WBAY)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) — Ariens Manufacturing changed its prayer-on-the-job policy Thursday, drawing pushback from dozens of Muslim employees who say they’re now out of a job.

Before this week, Somali Muslims employed by Ariens were allowed to leave the production line twice a shift to pray two of the five prayers their faith requires of them daily. They prayed five minutes at a time, designating their specific duties to colleagues.

A spokesperson for the Brillion-based equipment manufacturer said in a statement, in part:

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

Those affected said praying only during a meal break goes against Muslim practice.

“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 Green Bay Masjid Imam Hasan Abdi.

Former Ariens equipment painter Ibrahim Mehemmed held out his unemployment packet and told us, “We pray by the time. So they say, ‘If you don’t pray at the break time,’ they give us this [unemployment] paper to just leave.”

“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,” read a statement from Ariens. “We respect their faith, and we respect their decision regardless of their choice to return to work or not.”

An Ariens spokesperson says the policy change impacts 53 workers, ten of which have indicated they wish to stay in their current positions under the new policy.

According to law listed by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, “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” (read the law here).

“I have been 35 years in America and I’ve never heard of a company that is not allowing its employees to pray five minutes. It is absolutely discrimination on its face,” said Adan Hurr.

“Allow me to pray so that I can go back to work and do what I love to do, which is working for Ariens. But we are not allowed to do that. Yesterday what happened was just a travesty,” he said.

Imam said he has concerns for the future of the Muslim population in Green Bay. “If they got fired now, there’s no way they’ll get to stay in Green Bay. They’ll have to move to find work,” he said.

Ariens Company tells Action 2 News they “put a considerable amount of effort into finding a solution that allows for employees of Muslim faith to pray during work hours.”

“We met with members of our Somalian employee group to better understand their needs and consulted with local representatives of Muslim faith,” a spokesperson wrote.

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