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Workers terminated for prayer breaks

A group of Muslim workers in Kentucky have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that they were fired by their employer because they stopped working and took a five-minute break to say their evening prayers, as required by their religious beliefs. The workers were formerly employed by a division of DHL, the shipping company with locations in Indiana and around the country. According to the workers, they offered to take the breaks off the clock. Prior to the terminations, the company had allowed prayer breaks but had recently reversed its policy.

The EEOC complaints were filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Earlier this year CAIR had filed similar complaints against DHL on behalf of other workers who alleged that they had been terminated after requesting that the employer accommodate their religious beliefs. Federal law requires that employers provide "reasonable accommodation" for employees to follow requirements imposed by their religion. Islam requires prayers to be performed five times a day at specific hours.

The Kentucky workers alleged that the company had told them that their requested prayer breaks were coming too early in their shifts. They said that non-Muslim workers were allowed to take breaks at similar times without any reprisals.

In its complaint, CAIR is requesting all available remedies allowed under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act in order to address the alleged wrongful termination. The relief sought includes damages, reinstatement of the workers to their positions, and the institution of appropriate changes to DHL employee policies. Neither DHL nor its attorney had any public comment on the matter.

Source: USA Today, "Muslim workers say they were fired for praying", Mark Curnutte, November 06, 2013

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