Company Clashes with Muslim Employees Over Prayer Practices

January 26, 2001

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On January 26, 2001, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that last week 31 "Somali Muslims walked off their jobs at the Sylvest Farms of Georgia plant, saying their boss told them they couldn't leave the processing line to say a five-minute prayer at sunset, as required by their religion...Company officials refused to pay them [their last paychecks] unless they signed a form saying they quit voluntarily. Most refused to sign." Sylvest executives said that if they let that many people leave at the same time they would have to shut down the line. "The Somalis, who must pray five times a day, said only a few from each processing line leave at one time." Muslim officials estimate that the number of Muslims in the Atlanta area has tripled to 150,000 in the past few years. "Federal law requires an employer to accommodate religious needs 'unless it shows an undue hardship.'...The problem is deciding what constitutes a hardship...Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said it receives hundreds of discrimination cases a year -- most arising out of the workplace. He said many involve groups of Muslims because it is more obvious when they leave to pray."