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Labor Law: Businesses should learn more about Islamic religious practices to have a more inclusive and diverse workplace
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Labor Law

Labor Law: Businesses should learn more about Islamic religious practices to have a more inclusive and diverse workplace

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20150817_MBZ_KAREN

RTD Metro Business law columnist, Karen Michael.

Meat processor JBS USA will pay $5.5 million to about 300 employees to settle claims of discrimination based on race, national origin and religion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in June. The disturbing allegations arose from its plant in Greenley, Colo., according to a lawsuit filed in 2010.

The EEOC claimed that JBS discriminated against employees based on their Muslim religious affiliation and denied them reasonable accommodations, including the ability to pray as required by their religion.

The agency also claimed that Muslim employees were harassed by other employees when they tried to pray during their scheduled breaks or bathroom breaks.

During the holy month of Ramadan, the EEOC alleged that JBS turned off water fountains preventing Muslim employees from drinking water after fasting all day and from washing before prayers.

Somali employees claimed that they were denied bathroom breaks and were disciplined more harshly than other workers.

The lawsuit alleged that Black, Somali and Muslim employees suffered harassment based on race, religion and national origin.

The harassment included allegations that JBS managers and employees “threw meat or bones at Black and Somali employees and that JBS employees regularly called Somali employees offensive names because of their race, national origin, and religion.” The EEOC also alleged that JBS tolerated offensive graffiti in restrooms at the Greeley facility, with racially harassing and obscene statements against Somalis.

In addition to rehiring employees and providing a hotline to report discrimination, among other relief, JBS will be required to “provide clean, quiet, and appropriate locations other than bathrooms for employees’ religious observances, including daily prayers, and must also allow employees to use locker rooms or other locations that do not pose a safety risk for observation of their religious practices.”

The settlement is a good reminder that companies need to be more inclusive and diverse. To learn more about providing religious accommodations for Muslim workers, businesses can review the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ employers guide to Islamic religious practices, which includes information around Muslim holidays, Ramadan fasting and daily prayer.

According to the guide, Islam mandates that believers perform prayer five times a day, including morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and night. “Before prayer, Muslims are required to wash their faces, hands and feet with clean water. This washing is normally performed in a restroom sink,” the guide said.

During worship, the guide suggests Muslims “stand, bow and touch the forehead to the ground. Worship may be performed in any quiet, dry, clean place.”

The guide also suggests that other workers should not walk in front of those praying or interrupt the worshipper during prayer because the employee is fully engaged and, as a result, “may not respond to a ringing telephone or conversation,” but in case of an emergency, the worshipper will respond to an announcement by stopping prayer immediately.

The daily washing and prayer takes about 15 minutes, but the Friday Congregational Prayer generally takes place at a mosque during the noontime prayer and includes other activities so this lasts a total of 45 to 90 minutes, according to the guide.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations suggests that Muslim employees “should be able to complete Friday prayers during an extended lunch break. Any work missed may be made up by either staying later or coming in earlier, or through whatever arrangements are mutually satisfactory.”

Employers should review available resources from the EEOC at EEOC.gov and from the Council on American-Islamic Relations at CAIR.com to learn about non-discrimination provisions and how to provide reasonable accommodations for religious practices.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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