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  1. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Prayer at work

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Lae, Aug 16, 2014.

    I had a potential problem come up at work this week, its a bit of a banana skin for all involved so it definitely needs some tact.

    The situation is quite simple, we have a two man site, their duties are rather static and do they are not allowed to leave the common area (all facilities are provided, e.g. kitchenette, toilets etc). Now i know they do leave this area, it's obvious but they know they're not allowed. I cut them some slack, its a boring post.

    One of the guards is a Muslim (this could be any religion, i don't want this aimed at any particular one) and is required to pray, he has his mat, his shoes etc and off he goes to pray, i think this happens two to three times a shift. The problem we have is that whilst he is off for an hour at a time, his colleague is essentially lone working.

    This isn't company policy, he is not insured for this, it's in breach of contract for the guard that has left, its a breach of contract for the company also, the colleague on post essentially covers both roles and has effectively doubled his workload. Moreover, the guard that is left, has complained that he feels vulnerable (it can be a nuisance site). Whilst I can let some things slide, i cant have a guy feeling vulnerable whilst at work and do nothing about it.

    An initial suggestion was to arrange for someone to cover his prayer breaks, this wont happen, the company wont pay for this. Another more hard line approach was to stop him from leaving the common area, im not sure that can be done.

    My question(s):

    Should prayer at work be allowed if it cannot be safely catered for? if it put others at risk? if it increased work load for others?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    > Should prayer at work be allowed if it cannot be safely catered for?
    > if it put others at risk? if it increased work load for others?

    Yikes. Are you saying that this guard is off praying for an hour at a time, three times per shift? Or three times per shift, adding to a total of an hour? The second would be less of a problem, but a huge problem all the same.

    In any case, this is not acceptable. Yes, the guard may (or may not) have a legal right to pray under these circumstances, but that legal right can't be supported at the expense of fundamental aspects of his job.

    I think that this requires a consultation with both HR and Legal. (I realize that by assuming that you even have an HR and a Legal, I'm assuming that you're a largeish company.) I assume that there are people whose job includes judging "reasonable" concessions for protected issues like religions, and that you need an opinion from one of those people.

    I think that the company's position is slightly undermined by the fact that the guards are allowed to leave the area for other reasons--that makes it difficult to argue that you can't have them leaving, ever, period. As part of fixing this, I wouldn't be surprised if you end up holding all guards strictly to the no-leaving policy.

    If this were a big plant with lots of these guard areas, and a number of people who need to pray, I would say that a reasonable accommodation would be to have one or two guards who are assigned to roam from guard position to guard position, filling in for whoever's away praying. This might end up serving for a number of protected issues--for example, female guards who need to pump milk, people with various health issues who need to step away, that sort of thing.

    I do think, however, that these breaks wouldn't logically be paid.

    If the guards were just idle most of the time, I would ask if there were any way to make the prayer possible inside the area--assuming, of course, that the religion allows prayer to be interrupted for emergencies. But what you say about doubled workload suggests that this isn't plausible.

    Anyway, I think that you need to talk to HR and Legal.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    He's off for an hour at a time? I've never heard of anyone having to pray for that long.

    There was a similar story a few years ago about Muslims working at an airport. They took too long to pray, so after some bargaining, a new policy was introduced that limited the time for prayers to ten minutes (I think). Those who didn't follow the new rule were let go. In your case, if it's a breach of contract, you should consider permanently hiring a replacement (but be careful how it's handled; there could be legal battles).
     
  4. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Big company, i cant say how big because it would give it away and im not sure that's allowed. Data protection and all that, i have actually gone down that avenue already and we're waiting to hear back about some of the complex parts. Our bigger sites are easier to manage in terms of prayer etc as like you said its easier to accommodate, bigger sites usually have roaming positions so we can move folk around.

    The area isnt big enough to accommodate a prayer area. We dont actually allow them to leave the area, although we know it happens, we simply cant enforce it enough. You'd be sacking guards every other week if we found them in breach after viewing CCTV.

    As far as im aware, he goes to pray for at least two times, possibly three and each lasts 30-60 minutes. They are essentially paid as he shouldn't be going.

    Replacement is something i'd have to look at if a formal complaint comes up, i like to keep things as informal as possible but im definitely covering my bases on this one.

    This is all in house at the moment, the client (owner of the site) is notoriously strict and should they get involved it would get a whole lot worse.

    I'm interested to hear how they handle situations like this in the states.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another thought: I think that sometimes a reasonable accommodation is a reassignment to a position of similar rank and pay. You'd still have the issue of paying someone for up to three hours of non-work, but if there's a place that's less strict about absences, at least there might be fewer policy violations.

    Another issue is that if this is a service that your company is providing, you're billing for up to three hours of non-work.
     
  6. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two good points, both of which i've considered, the first option of moving site is problematic, the guard in question has been working on that particular site for many years under a few contractors and has a been tupe'd over, i think we have an obligation to keep him there. The second point is somewhat more serious, not something i'd want to get into online and definitely something for legal & contracts.

    I'm surprised i havent come across the issue elsewhere to be honest, i can imagine it being quite a common complaint.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Things like this are probably handled internally and without much publicity. Like I said earlier, if you handle it the wrong way, you could face a legal battle, and no one wants that. Do you guys have a legal department? If so, talk to them.
     
  8. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    They do and i'll definitely be talking to them about it, to be honest this thread was made to get peoples opinions on the matter rather than my specific case, maybe using my situation to illustrate what i meant wasn't the best of ideas :crazy:
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, in general, I think that prayer at work is probably a protected activity if it's required by the religion, and therefore qualified for that reasonable accommodation thing. But the way that it's accommodated can't impose the religion in question, or any religion, on the other employees.

    However, "if it's required" is a fuzzy thing. If someone has to pray sometime today, I think they can do it at home--unless they work a 24-hour shift. (Edited to add: which is not to say that they should be prevented from, say, going to an unused conference room to pray quietly at their lunch hour.) If they have to pray at X o'clock and they're working at X o'clock, then do they need to be scheduled at X o'clock? Does giving them a different shift impose an unreasonable hardship on them, when they could easily be released for ten minutes to go to a conference room?

    While you may regret giving your circumstances, I do think that it does come down to specific circumstances.
     
  10. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Well, I think for your particular circumstances you've been given good advice, and I'd say it probably will help you. I'm also not very well-versed with employer-employee contracts since I've never really worked a full-time job, but to my understanding this could turn into a stretched legal battle if you fire him simply on the basis of (what would come off to be) his religious beliefs. And if he is paid by the hour, being gone missing for 2-3 hours is well...not excusable. Unless he has some prior arrangement or understanding with the administration, which he obviously doesn't, he shouldn't be afforded this leverage.

    Aside from that, I thought I should mention that Muslims are required by their faith to pray 5 times a day, on specified times: before sunrise, after midday, during the afternoon, after sunset, and at night. I don't know your guard's shift but it's possible up to three of those prayers overlap his shift, especially during winters when the days are shorter. I personally don't advocate stopping someone from praying, and like @ChickenFreak said, people may take bathroom breaks or mothers who need to pump milk for a short while, are given reasonable exemption. And faith falls in one of those exemptions, for instance an institute that normally prohibits head covering indoors may allow it on religious and medical grounds.

    However, I guess it only makes sense that if someone seems to be manipulating this leverage, that a restriction should be put in place. Our own workplaces aren't particularly conducive to such breaks, and you do get fired or reprimanded if you take ridiculously long prayer breaks. To clarify, a single prayer can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. No, seriously. Just like a novel can go from 60,000 words to 120,000 words. I won't bore you with the specifics but suffice to say, the rudimentary requirements of prayer can be fulfilled in about 5-10 minutes each time, amounting to a total of 30 minutes in a whole day, give or take 10 minutes. This can be reduced further if the person chooses to combine the midday and afternoon prayers (such a leverage is present in pressing circumstances), because it would reduce the time going back and forth from whatever they were doing. If they do this during lunch break, which ordinarily is after midday or brushes afternoon, they won't actually be off-duty at all. And if they're lucky to get off before sunset, they won't actually take a minute off in the name of praying. In theory, even a person who does pray five times a day would not necessarily require any time off, though I would say again, I'm not against giving such an exemption. Also, I'm not sure how the building is structured, but can't he pray right where he works? Going to a mosque or a quiet place is preferred, but from the sounds of it, it's a pretty quiet place and he could always put his mat beside the check post. Not as good as being on duty, but at least he's accessible.

    I don't expect you to argue this with him, actually I hope you don't, because I don't know why he goes away for an hour and what his understanding of faith is. Also, I would reiterate, I would hope company policy would be more generous in this regard, but when it's not, Islam is flexible and not some mumbo jumbo of customs you must adhere to or else. There are obligations, but their purpose is spiritual cleansing and not to create a burden; it would defeat the purpose if it becomes a burden. Also, Islam is against the life of celibacy and being a hermit, chiefly because it stresses on carrying out worldly duties and religious ones in conjunction. Someone who leans on either side is not really doing a good job. A Muslim who earns lawfully is worshiping, a Muslim who attains education is worshiping, a Muslim who smiles at someone is worshiping. In essence, making prayer an excuse for poor work performance is simply antithetical to mainstream Islam. To back up some of my banter, I shall quote: "...So He hath turned to you (in mercy): read ye, therefore, of the Qur'an as much as may be easy for you. He knoweth that there may be (some) among you in ill-health; others travelling through the land, seeking of Allah's bounty; yet others fighting in Allah's Cause, read ye, therefore, as much of the Qur'an as may be easy (for you); and establish regular Prayer and give regular Charity; and loan to Allah a Beautiful Loan..." (73:20)

    I know you weren't talking particularly about Islam, but maybe this helps in some way.

    Also, this made me think of something--do you have other Muslim guards on duty, too? Maybe you could ask them to discuss this with him, or take their opinion on this without being direct?
     
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  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've worked with several Muslim doctors, some of them surgeons. Do you think they ever left in the middle of their job to pray for an hour? I think this guy is using your good will and is full,of it if he claims this is the minimum his religion allows. I would disallow any praying outside of break times, he can comply or leave the job. However, if he is doing this deliberately, he might use this to sue the company for discrimination or some such, so I'd consult company lawyers first.
     
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  12. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Reasonable consideration must be given to the religious party. And discrimination on any front would be extremely illegal.

    However from what I understand he doesn't have to leave the site at all. He needs to wash his hands face and feet if they are dirty, and he needs to face Mecca. Even the prayer mat is optional. There is no reason that he can't do that on the site, unless they have a "no kneeling" policy.

    In the states, if the company has made reasonable accommodation and he won't comply it would be grounds for termination.

    But on the other hand we have a policy in the U.S. called Employment at Will, which basically means that the company doesn't ever have to tell you why you are being fired. You could can the guy because you don't happen to like his tie, and there's nothing he could do about it.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can fire him because you don't like his tie, but you can't fire him because you don't like his religion. If all of the observant Muslims at the company get fired one by one, I would expect a prompt lawsuit.
     
  14. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Sorry, I should have specified, you can fire him for being Muslim and never, ever, tell him why. In the states it's more about attempting to form unions. The people who try to do that are, inexplicably, poor workers who need to be fired.
     
  15. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    That's just the kind of attitude we need to cleanse the nation of poor, annoying outsiders.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can try, but it's not as if the legal system only recognizes the employer-stated reason for firing. I've always assumed that no one is stupid enough, any more, to state that they're firing someone because of their race, religion, sex, etc., and that the reason is legally determined through other evidence.
     
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  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    No you still don't get it. They don't have to give anyone a reason. That's what "work at will" means.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I don't think that you get it. It doesn't matter if they state a reason. It doesn't matter if they refuse to state a reason. It doesn't matter if they state a perfectly lawful reason. If the employer quietly fires all of the observant Muslim employees, and keeps most other employees that work the same job, that's inviting a lawsuit.

    It's not as if most discrimination lawsuits are neatly resolved with the employer saying, "Well, yeah, we fired all the muslims/Christians/childbearing women/people over 50. Wait, what, are you saying that's not legal?"
     
  19. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    And that would be incredibly pertinent if the Original Poster was talking about firing every Muslim on his employ.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Proving that all employees in a protected category were fired is not the only way to prove discrimination.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've traveled in places the Muslim Prayer is called out 5 times a day. People stop what they are doing, roll out the prayer rug and bow to the east toward Mecca. I've never once seen the ritual last an hour.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salat
     
  22. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    I'd let him go off and pray and have the time come out of his lunch (or other) breaks. He can't take more break than he has break time.

    I don't see how he'd really have a leg to stand on, legally or otherwise, if you offered that.

    That's basically how I think this sort of thing should be handled in general: be prepared to give a little leeway to accommodate religious beliefs but don't let them benefit too much compared to other employees or it can become divisive.
     
  23. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really interesting to see peoples different view points on this, its a tricky one for management and staff alike i believe, a lot of people i've spoken to about it have echoed similar situations. Some complained but out of respect and being tolerant, most did not. The comparison with US law is interesting.

    I'm a guy. At least i was last time i looked.
     
  24. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    I personally just think the guy is pushing the envelope to see if he can sue the company and make some cash.
     
  25. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Oops. Edited.
     
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