Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employers in New York and throughout the country from treating workers differently based purely on their sincerely held religious beliefs. However, questions about how far these protections should stretch have often led to contentious legal battles. One of the latest such cases involves Muslim workers at a Wisconsin snow blower and lawn tractor manufacturer. The workers claim that a new company policy is preventing them from practicing their faith and violates federal law.
A discrimination complaint was filed on behalf of the workers by an Islamic advocacy group on May 24. The group claims in their complaint that a policy introduced by the company on Jan. 25 restricting worker breaks to two predefined 10 minute periods changed a longstanding arrangement and discriminated against Muslim employees. According to the group, the arrangement in place prior to the new policy allowed Muslim workers to take their breaks at Islamic prayer times after receiving approval from a supervisor.
The manufacturing company is also accused of retaliating against workers who complained about the new policy. The complaint alleges that Muslim workers who continued to take their breaks at traditional Islamic times or asked for an exemption to the new policy were threatened with termination. There were allegedly seven Muslim workers who were fired and a further seven who chose to resign rather than comply with the new policy.
The Civil Rights Act requires employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate workers with sincere religious beliefs. When individuals are the victims of workplace discrimination, attorneys with experience in this area may remind employers of their responsibilities under federal law. Attorneys could also point out that employers taking retaliatory action against workers who have requested reasonable religious accommodations may face severe sanctions.
Source: ABC News, "Muslim Employees File Religious Discrimination Complaint Against Wisconsin Firm Over Prayer Dispute," Morgan Winsor, May 25, 2016