Each state has the right to define employment standards like lunch breaks, time frames for shorter paid rest breaks, and even bathroom breaks. Ideally, they set a reasonable standard that protects both the employer and employee. Federal laws mandate shorter rest breaks by defining a break that must be paid as one under 20 minutes.
Employment laws are created to make sure that all employees are treated equally and have access to breaks as needed within the legal requirements. At a United Parcel Service (UPS) in Minnesota, a group of Muslims is suing the location over not being able to take more breaks than the state law affords them. This group is demanding that they are given extra breaks throughout the day to pray and because these breaks would be under 20 minutes long, they should also be paid for their prayer time.
According to the employment laws of Minnesota:
“Minnesota labor laws require employer to provide employees restroom time and sufficient time to eat a meal. The meal time requirement applies to employees who work eight (8) or more consecutive hours. If the break is less than twenty (20) minutes in duration, it must be paid. Time to use the nearest restroom must be provided within each four (4) consecutive hours of work. Minn. Statutes 177.253 and 177.254. “
Muslim employees at the Mendota Heights location of UPS started asking for extra breaks to pray. These were paid breaks while others worked during the time. These were in addition to the breaks everyone on site received. Some of the employees also took it upon themselves to lie about what their bathroom breaks; they instead disappeared to pray.
While the workers insisted they were not disrupting the work day at the facility, their demands came down to working less of the time than they were being paid for. Each of the workers received an unpaid lunch break and rest breaks throughout the day. They had also abused their bathroom breaks to manipulate the system.
According to the lawsuit that is being handled by CAIR:
“Abdullahi Dahir and Abdifatah Hassan said they had been allowed to pray as needed while at work until UPS hired a new operations manager. That manager refused to let Muslim employees pray outside of regular break times and also warned them against using trips to the bathroom to fulfill their need to pray five times a day, the suit contends. Those who didn’t comply were fired.”
“There is no lawful reason for any company to stop Muslims from praying when previously that company had allowed such prayers in a manner that did not impact the workplace,” said CAIR-MN’s civil rights director Amir Malik, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. UPS and Doherty Staffing Solutions withdrew “this reasonable accommodation … in order to get rid of the Muslim employees,” Malik said in a statement announcing the suit.”
It is a little hard to argue that allowing a select few employees the right to take five extra breaks every day will not affect business. Because any break under 20 minutes is also paid, this would end up with not only a loss of work time but also a loss of revenue. It does not seem to fall under the category of being a “reasonable accommodation” to expect any employer to pay Muslim employees to pray instead of work.
When the supervisors on site pushed for all employees to work their full shift and cracked down on workers trying to justify take unreasonable bathroom breaks to pray, Muslim employees fought back with the lawsuit. Their premise is that they have only asked for something that is reasonable and the employer not wanting to pay them for praying five times a day, in addition to the regular breaks, is a violation of their human rights.
What is unclear is how expecting all employees, including those who are Muslim, to work their paid hours is discrimination. The UPS facility carefully followed the state laws and paid employees for the time they worked and the required number of paid breaks. For the workers who are not Muslim, it seems a little extreme to think they will be forced to pick up the slack left by workers taking five extra paid breaks each day.