Sunday, October 23, 2011

It Hurts to Work for Hertz


Hertz rental car company has fired 26 of its employees at a Seattle airport branch because they refuse to clock out during their prayer times. The Associated Press reports that a local workers union which represents a large portion of the Muslim employees at Hertz does not find this action to be constitutional. According to spokesman Tom Zilly of the union Teamsters 117 feels that Hertz did not follow their own internal policy, as they agreed to allow the workers to be paid during their prayers a year ago. Hertz claims that the workers were violating a settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached two years ago. The company stated that the work environment was tarnished when workers would often take more time with their prayers than necessary.

Constitutionally, this brings up the question of whether or not the Muslim workers were discriminated against because of their religion. Technically, they are allowed to leave work to pray but they cannot be paid for the time when they are out of work. Are the employees’ constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion being violated? Should employees be paid for prayer time?

Personally, I find that Hertz has not discriminated against these Muslim workers. I agree with the company that the employees could be taking advantage of the paid free time to do other things that were not work. Even if there were no work related issues, I still think that paying people to pray does not make much sense to me. Companies should constitutionally oblige to allow their employees time out of work to pray, but it should not have to be paid. In Sherbert v. Verner we saw that the court gave unemployment compensation to a woman who could not work on Saturdays due to her religion when she could not find a job. While this is similar in nature to this instance, it differs in the fact that Muslims do not have to miss a significant amount of time to pray. Financially, I feel that they would not be burdened as much as the woman in Sherbert.

Tom Zilly feels that Hertz should not have given such a harsh ultimatum and could have instead sat down with their employees and reached some sort of compromise. I feel that this is not a good argument. Hertz has the right to fire and hire employees at will, just like all other companies. Nowhere in most contracts of employment does it say that the company must negotiate with an employee instead of fire them. While it may be courteous to do so, it is not a legal obligation.

At the end of this argument, I find Hertz is doing nothing wrong legally and the workers union is blowing things out of proportion. The workers are allowed to leave work to pray, so they can freely exercise their religion. Unfortunately for them, their religion may take away a little bit of their pay, but I don’t feel that it would amount to be enough to place a heavy financial burden on them.

18 comments:

BryceS said...

I agree with Jack. Hertz is not discriminating these Muslim individuals according to their beliefs, because they are allowed to practice them freely as they choose. Additionally, if Hertz did not require these workers to sign out, the “can of worms” would be opened and people representing all sorts of faiths could look for reasons to use religion as an excuse to get paid. Ultimately, Hertz’s motive is secularly driven. If these people (the Muslim victims) can provide justification that it is within their religious doctrine that they have to be paid while praying, then Hertz is indeed violating their freedom to practice their religion.

Harry R. said...

I agree with Jack that Hertz has the right to make their employees clock out during their prayer time. Breaks for lunch and other everyday activities are negotiated within contracts, and unless the contract discussed allowing prayer while still being on the clock, Hertz has the right to act as they have. The workers are not contributing to the well-being of the company in any way while they are praying, so I see no reason why Hertz should be forced to pay them during this time.

Callie B said...

I completely agree with Jack and the previous comments. Hertz is in no manner infringing on the employees’ free exercise rights, as they are allowing them to take time to pray. While the Constitution guarantees protection of religious liberty, it in no manner guarantees the right to get paid while exercising one’s religion. In fact, if Hertz were to pay the Muslim employees while they were praying, it could be interpreted as favoring the Muslim religion over others as Muslim employees would be getting paid for work they were not doing.

Sophie K said...

I think Callie brings up an interesting point about favoring one religion over another. If Muslim employees receive payment for time spent praying instead of working, couldn’t other employees that are members of different religions argue for the same benefit? Hertz does not obstruct the Muslim employees’ rights to free exercise, because they allowed them to take time to pray. Furthermore, I don’t think compromise, as Tom Zilly suggested, would be an easy solution. It seems that Hertz was more than fair in allowing for prayer, and that the Muslim employees took advantage of these policies.

PamelaR said...

I think that the only way it can be constitutional for Hertz to give those who pray paid breaks is to give everyone a certain amount of paid break time per day and allow them to use it however they wish, prayer or otherwise. If only those who pray receive paid breaks, the policy is advantaging religion over non religion, and making it so Muslims essentially get paid the same amount but are allowed to do less work.

Kathryn M. said...

Hertz has both a secular and neutral purpose in enforcing employees to clock out during prayer time. The employees are not contributing to the company while they are praying therefore they should not be paid. While there is an indirect burden to Muslim workers, the rule is uniform for all workers who cease contributing to the company during free time.

Allison S said...

I agree with the previous comments and Jack as well. I think that by allowing the Muslims to have paid breaks other employers from different faiths will want the same benefits. The question that I thought of while reading this is how could Hertz even attempt to determine the amount of prayer time an employee should be given? I think if the court rules in favor of the minority group it will lead to a slippery slope where other religions will want the same benefits. This could in effect lead to arguments from other religious groups wanting longer breaks and open up an even bigger can of worms. Ultimately I do not think Hertz should pay its employees for prayer breaks because the consequences of ruling in favor of the minority will result in much more complicated disputes amongst other religions. Then this issue could turn into a debate over whether or not Hertz is advantaging religion over non-religion argument. By ruling in favor of Hertz the courts will keep from going down a path that would cause unnecessary complications.

Zermeno A. said...

Like previous commentators, I also agree with Jack on this matter. I see why the Muslim employees would want to count their time of prayer as part of their hours, but this is unfair to Hertz as a company. I think Hertz was generous enough in allowing Muslims to clock out in order to fulfill their religious duties. The time the Muslim workers utilized for prayer took away from Hertz income. As Callie mentioned, the Constitution sets ground for religious freedom, not work compensation as related to religion. In short, unless Hertz’s employees were hired under the impression and signed a contract that stated paid prayer breaks, Hertz should not be judged on account of their employees dismissals.

Ally R said...

I agree with all of the previous comments and feel that it would be unconstitutional if Hertz continued paying Muslims during their times of prayer. Like Callie said, this would considered an establishment of religion which could only be seen as neutral if all employees were given that same amount of time to leave the workplace while also being payed. This would be detrimental to Hertz's profit, and I feel for that reason, justifies their actions for the ultimatum provided to their Muslim employees.

Sam S said...

I agree with Jack and the other posts. Hertz has the right to fire and hire at will. Hertz was allowing their Muslim employees the right to the free exercise of religion by granting them time to pray throughout the day. Companies in general do not pay employees during any kind of break, so why should it be any different if it is a prayer break? The company hires employees to work and pays them for the work that they do. Companies do not pay their employees to pray.

Liz Petrillo said...

I agree with Jack. Hertz is not discriminating against the Muslim religion, Hertz is simply just saying that they are only going to pay their workers, if they are actually working. This is completely plausible because what if every employee was muslim or any religion that requires several prayers throughout the day? Then there would no employees left to actually attend to customers at the times of prayer. If the employees made an agreement with the employer prior to their commencement of working at Hertz saying that they are permitted to pray while on the job, this would be different. However, even if this did happen then it would be unjust to all those who don't have to pray given their religion, and they would be working more, and getting paid the same.

David P said...

I agree that this is more of a slippery slope case than anything else, as Bryce suggests. If they allow these members of a minority religion to be payed during their daily worship, other religions, either made up or not could make crazy demands and expect pay.
Additionally, religion takes on an extra burden in America because we must consider religion and non-religion alike for having equal rights. It is not fair to atheist workers who must carry the extra weight around the company while some of the workers are praying and being pad to do so!

Jon W. said...

I agree with the sentiments that Hertz is not in the wrong for demanding that Muslim employee's clock out to pray. I am also in favor of Pam's idea of designating a certain amount of "free time" where employees are able to do as they please. This is a solution that can appease all parties. By allowing Muslim workers to be paid while praying clearly benefits their religion over others and the nonreligious. If Hertz were to not allow them to pray while on the job then I believe their would be a problem.

Justin E said...

What a nice perk to be paid to pray. Hertz is completely in the right. They are still allowing Muslims to practice their religion as they please. Therefore, this is not an infringement on their religious freedom. They should clock out, after all, taking time out of work to pray means you are not performing your job. I agree with the many who wrote above me and see no reason why Hertz should legally be bound to pay the Muslims during their prayer time. In the end, this would only lead to many taking advantage of the system.

eric remington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric remington said...

clock out dudes...no bombs about that

eric remington said...

discrimination as a christian i should get equal prayer time. Muslims should clock out if they want to pray...what would allah do? he is a figurine in arabia somewhere hasnt moved in years true story

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