The dispute over prayer breaks for Muslim employees at the Swift & Co. plant in Cactus is a two-sided legal issue, an Amarillo attorney said this week.

At least 54 plant employees, all Muslims of African descent, walked off the job last week, citing the company’s refusal to allow them two prayer breaks and female employees adequate time to wash after using the restroom, a strict requirement of the religion.

Vicki Wilmarth, an attorney specializing in employment law, said, “The basic rule is, an employer has to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices, but only if the employee can do so without undo hardship to the employer’s business.

“So it’s a balancing act. It requires the employer and employees to determine what a reasonable accommodation would be.”

Wilmarth said the federal statute governing religious discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the state statute is Texas Labor Code section 21.051.

“Although neither statute says that employers have to reasonably accommodate religion, the courts have implied that and the regulations enforce that.”

Muslim workers pray five times a day and are asking Swift to grant two breaks a day: one at 4 p.m. and one at sunset. (MORE)


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