Muslim Employees at Wisconsin Company Upset over Prayer-Time Cancellation

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

A Wisconsin manufacturing plant made a policy announcement affecting prayer time for its 53 Muslims employees, prompting the Muslim employees to claim “discrimination.”

The Ariens Company, a lawn mower and snowmobile manufacturing company in Brillion, Wisconsin, made a recent change in company policy, ending the past practice of its many Muslim employees, who often took multiple breaks for Muslim prayers.

Whereas in the past, employees were able to take breaks from the production line whenever they needed to join in prayer, now the company says Muslim employees will get only a lunch break and should indulge their prayers at that time. The company also warned employees if they try to take other times off, they will be replaced.

But employees say that the one lunch break does not coincide with the proper time for Muslim prayers.

“If someone tells you, ‘You pray on your break,’ and the break time is not the prayer time, it will be impossible to pray,” employee Masjid Imam Hasan Abdi told WBAY Channel 2 News in Green Bay.

Another employee told the media the company’s new policy “is absolutely discrimination on its face.”

A spokesman for the company said the owners hoped to ensure that the manufacturing line was not interrupted by employees abandoning their positions at unscheduled times.

“We are asking employees to pray during scheduled breaks in designated prayer rooms. Our manufacturing environment does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production,” company spokesman Dan Ariens said.

Ariens also noted that non-Muslim employees were getting upset that the Muslim employees were getting multiple breaks that non-Muslim employees were not getting.

According to federal law, the company does not have to agree to the employees’ prayer-time requests. The federal law proclaims that “an employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer … [such as] decreased efficiency.”

Arien spokesman assured the media that the owners had gone out of their way to accommodate its employees’ religion, pointing to the “designated prayer room” that the company created for its employees. Ariens also issued a letter to all 53 Muslim employees informing them of the new policy. So far, ten Muslim employees have said they would like to remain at their jobs and will abide by the new rules.

Ariens said they “put a considerable amount of effort into finding a solution that allows for employees of Muslim faith to pray during work hours.” They added, “We met with members of our Somalian employee group to better understand their needs and consulted with local representatives of Muslim faith.”

Dan Ariens’ full statement says:

I understand that the headline and story featured on WBAY appears to be alarming news about Ariens Company. It is alarming to me as well. Unfortunately this headline does not tell our story very well.

As many of you know, my family has operated manufacturing businesses in Northeast Wisconsin for more than 80 years. You also may know that we have only been successful by operating under a set of Core Values. We will: Be Honest, Be Fair, Keep our Commitments, Respect the Individual and Encourage Intellectual Curiosity.

We work very hard as a team to accommodate all employees with our vision of Passionate People who Astound our Customers. In our manufacturing plants we work as a team to build the best power equipment product.

Like any accommodation, we put a considerable amount of time into finding a solution that would work for both the employees and the company. Our staff is committed to providing a great place to work for all employees and have met with members of our Somalian employee group to better understand their needs.

We consulted with local representatives who are of Muslim faith to help provide sustainable solutions. We want to be clear that no one was terminated here. We are asking employees to use two scheduled breaks for religious observation, and are offering designated prayer rooms.

Additionally, we are also offering to look for positions on other shifts that might better accommodate prayer obligations. This change affected 53 employees. More than ten of the employees have contacted Ariens Company to say they will return to work under the new policy. And we welcome their return. We continue to be open to any of the employees returning to work under the new policy and I have sent a letter to each of them re-stating that offer.

Let me be clear: we respect their faith, we respect the work they have done at Ariens, and we respect their decision regardless of their choice to return to work or not. Headlines do not make a story.

If you want more details, please let me know.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at