Religious Discrimination or Just Running a Business? -- Employer Fires Muslim Workers Demanding Prayer Breaks

According to a front page story in the Los Angeles Times today, JBS Swift & Co. has just laid off about 100 Muslim workers who walked off their jobs as a protest for not receiving prayer breaks.   The layoffs occurred in Colorado and will inevitably implicate a host of collective bargaining issues.   But I think the story is more interesting because of the issues of religious discrimination and accommodation that it raises.

Virtually all employers realize that it is illegal to discriminate against a worker because of his religion.  Far fewer are aware that the law also requires employers to make an affirmative "reasonable accommodation" for an employee's "sincere"  religious beliefs and practices.  This duty is very similar to the requirement under the ADA to modify non-essential job duties for disabled workers.  Thus, if an employee's religion prevents him from working certain days or shifts due to Sabbath or pilgrimage issues, an employer may be legally required to re-arrange schedules or allow time off.

As a general rule, however, the employer is not required to offer an accommodation that involves a significant cost, imposes undesirable shift preferences on other employees, or creates an "undue hardship" for the business.


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