A workplace conflict over religious accommodations recently came to a head after a meat processing plant fired about 150 Muslim employees who refused to show up to work.
The conflict began in early December of last year after a group of 11 Muslim employees asked to go to the factory’s designated ‘prayer room’ at the same time. Supervisors refused to let them all go and told the workers that they would have to go in smaller groups to prevent slowing down the work flow.
Initially, the employees seemed to comply, but 10 workers quit later that day. Soon after, at least 200 factory employees, most of whom identified as Muslim, and all of whom were part of the Teamsters Union, walked out of work and stayed away for as many as three days.
The employees were allegedly told “If you want to pray, go home.” Cargill fired about 150 Muslim workers after they did not show up in the factory.
While Cargill is adamant that it has not committed religious discrimination and that the mass firing does not constitute wrongful termination or workplace retaliation, but the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing at least 100 of the fired workers, say that Cargill’s religious discrimination policies seem fine on paper, but not in practice.
The fired employees will have a hard time trying to get their jobs back now, since the meat company reportedly has another policy which demands that a terminated worker must wait six months before reapplying for their old job. Representatives at CAIR and others are currently disputing that policy, asking that the six-month ban be waived so that the recently fired workers can get back to work.
Dan A. Atkerson is an employment law specialist working in the Dallas area and handles a variety of cases involving workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.