Some Muslim workers in Cincinnati were fired recently for taking time to pray on the job after their company changed its policy on flexible break times.
Mohamed Maow, along with nearly two-dozen other Somali refugees who had been legally working part and full time at DHL Global Mail, was fired after stopping for a five minute evening prayer that is required by the religion of Islam. The three-year employee of DHL has never received any negative reviews for his work over the years, and in the past, the company allowed flexible break times that enabled the Muslim workers to be able to pray when they needed to.
After changing their break policy, however, Muslim workers were left with no choice but to take the five-minutes to pray. Workers claim that they told supervisors that they would go off the clock for the prayer time, but they weren’t allowed.
"We do not have a choice," said Shahira Abdullah, 21. "We must stop what we are doing and pray. We were not asking for an additional break."
A new supervisor had taken over not long before the group was fired, and that is when the policy changed. On October 9th, Maow and the other 23 Muslim workers stopped to pray at 7:24pm. After their prayer, three workers were called into the office by the supervisor and told they were all fired. Police were called to the scene to make sure that there were no harsh reactions when the workers were leaving the building.
Now, 12 complaints, including one from Maow, have been filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and 12 more are still expected to be filed.
"We are requesting all available remedies allowed under Title VII (of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964) and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, including but not limited to: damages, reinstatement where appropriate and policy changes to ensure that all worker's civil rights are respected," said Booker Washington of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the organization that is filing the complaints on behalf of the workers.
DHL released a statement in response to the complaints filed, stating, “While we believe that all respective internal rules of DHL Global Mail are perfectly in line with legal requirements, we will investigate/consider the case carefully. DHL Global Mail is an equal opportunity employer and takes seriously all complaints of harassment and discrimination, however we do not comment in detail on pending charges or litigation. Our policies provide equal employment opportunities to all employees and comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. DHL Global Mail ensures employees’ religious practices are understood and, as reasonable, accommodated.”
Still, Maow and the 23 other Muslim workers that were fired for taking five minutes to pray claim that there was a basic lack of understanding and an unwillingness to compromise.
"First, it's religion," said Maow on the tenants of Islam. "Second, it's that you are to support your father and mother and children until they are able to care for themselves. We take work very seriously. I have never had this problem before. When I took English class at Cincinnati Public Schools, my teachers always understood when I had to pray. It never was a problem."
The matter is currently being handled, but as of right now, Maow and many other former DHL workers are unemployed.