Monday, October 31, 2011

Muslim Practices and a Bottling Company

Nathan Henderson, a Muslim, is suing the American Bottling Company because he believes that he was fired due to his religious practices. In September 2007, Henderson was pulled aside by his boss to discuss reports that Henderson had been taking time during the workday to say his five daily prayers. Since these prayers only lasted approximately two minutes his boss said that he did not have a problem with Henderson saying his prayers during the workday. After this meeting Henderson then asked his boss if he could take his lunch break to match up with Jumma prayers, which is a Friday only congregational prayer. Henderson’s request was denied. Henderson then suggested that he could make up the hours he missed by working on Saturdays, however the supervisor told him that working on Saturdays were reserved for employees with the “most seniority”. Henderson was also told by his supervisor that he should have disclosed his religious beliefs during the interview because he would not have been hired. A few days after meeting with his supervisor Henderson was fired for “not meeting the job requirements”.

This case brings up the right to free exercise of religion. Henderson is allowed to freely practice his religion and he is not allowed to be discriminated against based upon his religious beliefs and practices. A company cannot discriminate against their employees based on religion; they must make all reasonable attempts to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees.

I believe that Henderson has a legitimate case of his right to free exercise of religion being denied and that the company did discriminate against him based on his religious beliefs and practices. Henderson, prior to accepting the job, should have informed his employer that he would be taking five short breaks during the work day to pray. Even though he did not do this, and after some complaints were filed about it, his supervisor did the right thing by saying that Henderson could take those breaks since they were short and did not interfere with his overall productivity. Henderson then requested to change his lunch break time to coincide with a congregational prayer period so that he could attend the prayer session. I feel that the Company was right it not allowing Henderson to change his lunch break time to coincide with the Jumma prayers. If the company allowed this request than they would have to start allowing many other religious based requests to take time off. This specific request impacts the flow of the workday too much so it was right for the company to deny it, even though Henderson offered to make up the time missed on Saturdays. The real problem comes however, with the firing of Henderson. From the article, it does not seem like there was any reason besides Henderson’s religious beliefs for him to be fired. Also, the fact that the supervisor told him that if he would have known prior to hiring Henderson of his religious beliefs that he would not have hired him, showing that the firing of Henderson a couple of days later was purely discrimination based on religious beliefs. Henderson was not refusing to work during the Jumma prayers on Fridays; instead he just put in a request to change his lunch break so that he could attend them. If he would have said that he would not work during that time on Fridays then we get into a situation like the Braunfeld v Brown case. The questions that this case raises are; where do we draw the line for religious accommodation? And what is considered to be a disruptive religious practice to the day of work?

10 comments:

Harry R. said...

I agree with Sam that the firing of the worker is illegal based on his religious beliefs. However, I do not feel that the company was correct in not allowing the worker to change his lunch hours. As long as the total time on break was the same, I feel that there is no business interest served by not allowing him to modify the exact time when he takes his breaks. The employee is a truck driver, so as long as there is no specific deadline for his deliveries, he should be allowed to change when he takes his breaks.

Allison S said...

I agree with Sam. It is illegal for this company to fire Henderson because of his religious beliefs. However, unlike Harry I think the company was right not to change their employee’s lunch hours. I think that if this bottling company was to work around one person’s schedule, they will then have to accommodate other employees. This could lead to employees asking for longer breaks and also claiming religious reasoning. I think that modifying Henderson’s schedule would lead to a slippery slope. When it comes to addressing the question of “where do we draw the line?” I believe that companies and organizations should make minimal accommodations. If they constantly adjust and rearrange their schedules for every single employee it would be absurd and a waste of valuable work time. Disruptive religious practice I think is something that takes more than a few minutes out of ones day. As an employee a person should recognize that they are in their work place, so they should be working. As long as a practice doesn’t take a significant amount of time away from one’s work I do not see a problem with small religious practices.

Grant Z said...

I believe that the company was wrong to fire Henderson as well, and I think the reason they did so was his religious beliefs. As for modification of the lunch break, I agree with Harry. I'm not sure exactly what the timing of deliveries on Fridays entails, but I think the company wouldn't be over-accommodating to allow Henderson to change his lunch hours on Friday only. I don't think very many other employees would have religious justifications for asking for their lunch hours to be changed so I'm not sure how slippery the slope really is.

Jack Ness said...

I concurr with Sam here on most points. I definitely feel that Henderson was fired based on his religion and that that is not constitutional. However, with some deeper thought, if the employer was allowed to deny Henderson's request of lunch off to pray, shouldn't he then be able to fire Henderson? If an employer feels that a religious obligation disrupts his business, shouldn't he be allowed to fire that person? I personally don't feel that he should be able to in this case given the circumstances, but other cases such as the Hertz case may raise that question.

BryceS said...

I agree in that it is unconstitutional to fire Henderson based off his religious beliefs. However, it becomes a complicated issue when religious practices begin to interfere with work when they were not specified in the application process. Additionally, as we saw in Jack’s article, it becomes increasingly complex once the issue is raised regarding receiving payment while practicing religious beliefs. In my opinion, Henderson has made a legitimate claim since he agreed to compensate by altering his work schedule (so much as to come into work on a Saturday) in order to complete his required hours.

TNTbo said...

I really do not understand how changing the employees lunch time is an issue that affects the rest of the company, so I think the employer is wrong on both accounts. I feel that if the company really thinks the lunch issue would lead to greater troubles, then they have every right to deny him this accommodation. The key issue here is that he was fired on the basis of his religion, which is clearly religious discrimination. This employee's rituals, as I understand from this post, did not pose a threat to the productivity and well being of the company. As long as he is able to maintain labor dedication and work effectively, there is no reason this man should have been fired.

Jean A said...

i feel that firing the truck driver based upon his religious beliefs is unconstitutional. His two minute prayers are not hindering his productivity and changing the time of his lunch break is not a blatant economic disadvantage to the company overall. Furthermore, I do not think the employee should have felt obligated to disclose to his employer his religious beliefs at the interview. Hiring on the basis of religion is a discriminatory practice and thus should not be taken into account in the hiring process.

Callie B said...

I agree with Sam in regards to the unconstitutionality of firing Henderson, however I would like to refute that the company was right in not allowing him to change his Friday lunch break time. The company has the burden of proof in showing that his request placed “undue hardship” on the bottling company. Since they were not effectively able to demonstrate this, the company has a legal responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for religious purposes. This is a circumstance is which Henderson’s right to free exercise was trampled on.

Casey K said...

I agree with Sam. The firing of the worker is clearly illegal because it was obviously based on his religious beliefs. In addition to this though, I think accommodating the workers request for a different lunch hour was completely reasonable and should have been accommodated. As long as changing his lunch hour did not cause any intense conflicts there is no good reason to deny the man this simple request. He would not be working less, or placing any burden upon the company by taking his lunch period at a different time. An employer should be responsible to make simple changes in order to accomodate the different life styles of their employees. They should have granted the worker a different Friday lunch period because there is no good reason to deny an employ a simple request without any negative repercussions for the company.

kanderson said...

I was thinking about this with the case that we were exposed to with the debate over whether or not the employee should be allowed to take the hajj. what if companies were to allot every individual (no matter what their religious background) the time to take 2 weeks to preform their necessary religious actions (this could include daily prayer, the hajj, Sunday church service, the Jewish day of rest). I don't know. I was just trying to brainstorm a way that might include all, allow for flexibility, yet also provide a bit of control and rigidity to the discussion. then, if this did exist, this employee would have the time to prayer every day, 5x times a day, because he would just be able to take it out of his two weeks.