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Prayer breaks: Know what’s ‘reasonable’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Five times each day, many Muslims offer a short, five- to 10-minute prayer—at sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset and at night. Other religions also call for daytime prayers.

The EEOC says employers are required to accommodate such prayer time, unless doing so “would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business.” Examples of common accommodations: flex scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions, and modifications to workplace practices.

You’re not obligated to choose the accommodation suggested by the employee. Arriving at a reasonable accommodation requires a give-and-take discussion with the worker and “reasonableness is a fact-specific determination,” the EEOC says.

But be aware that courts will frown on accommodations that wreak havoc on the employee’s life, such as switching the person to the night shift to avoid prayer-break issues.

Recent case: A group of Muslim employees at a Minnesota electronics manufacturer filed a religious discrimination lawsuit, saying they were denied regular prayer breaks.

The company offered to transfer all the Muslim employees to the night shift. It argued that the proposed accommodation was reasonable because it completely resolved the conflict—no prayers, no breaks needed, so no problem.

But the court disagreed and ordered a jury trial. It accepted the employees’ argument that a disruptive move like the proposed shift change might have such a profound effect on their lives that it could not be reasonable. (Haliye, et al. v. Celestica, No. 06-CV-4769, DC MN, 2010)

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