News about Hertz Corporation giving pink slips to more than two dozen Muslim employees had everyone talking about the long term ramifications. The firing of the Hertz employees was, in the company’s’ view, the only way to resolve the issue of Muslim workers who were taking extended breaks, for daily prayers.
From news reports, some Muslim employees were pausing to pray without clocking out for breaks. Hertz claimed that these employees were using company time for personal business. Hertz contends the firing of the Muslim employees was intended to promote fairness in the workplace. The now unemployed Muslims contend that Hertz unfairly targeted them for their religious beliefs.
The thirty four Somali Muslims in question, worked as drivers for Hertz, shuttling cars back and forth from the airport for parking and cleaning. Before firing the Muslim employees, Hertz gave each employee the opportunity to sign an agreement stating their willingness to begin clocking out for daily prayers. The 25 Muslim employees who missed the deadline to sign the agreement were let go by Hertz.
The Muslim tradition of daily prayer known as Salaat, is central to their Muslim belief. Muslims observe the formal prayers five times daily. Pre dawn prayers, performed before sunrise. Noon prayers performed after the day’s work has begun. Afternoon prayer performed in the late afternoon. Sunset prayer, performed just before sunset and evening prayer, before retiring for the night.
In a traditional work environment where employees work Monday through Friday daily from 9a to 5p, it is possible that only two of these prayers would impact an employee’s routine daily work. The Hertz location at Seattle airport, however, is a 24-hour operation, 7 days per week. It is possible therefore that on every shift, Muslim employees could be impacted by personal choice to take time for prayer. Of course it should be noted that Muslims are not the only employees who pray during work hours. Other employees do it as well, except not with the same obvious scheduling.
Additionally, other employees spend employer hours doing other things outside of their duties and assignments. Bring this subject up and you will quickly be reminded of those employees who spend company time on smoke breaks or coffee runs. Would Hertz ask these employees to sign agreements to clock out for smoking and coffee? Whatever the outcome, this will be a precedence setting case.