While Muslims make up only 1% of the population in the United States, they now represent one-quarter of religious discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission.
At the top of the list of these complaints are employers spurning requests for accommodation for daily Muslim prayers or offering what the employees believe are inadequate provisions for their obligation to pray.
“As workforces become more diverse, employers should not only become aware of these practices, but also understand their legal obligations to accommodate such practices,” says the law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
One problem is the complexity of Muslim prayer practices. Not only are believers expected to pray five times a day, kneeling while facing towards Mecca, the time for prayer is determined by the movement of the sun, not clock time. All five prayers also are preceded by ritual washing of hands, mouth, nose, face, ears and feet.
The challenge becomes more complex because of the many variations in belief and practice among different groups of Muslims. Differences include the exact time of prayers, length of particular prayers, permissibility of skipping some prayers (or praying later or combining prayers), the necessity of praying in gender-segregated spaces, and the extent of washing required before praying.
Morrison & Foerster suggests that employers can look to the Council on American-Islamic Relations best practices guidelines for shaping a policy.
It is the employee’s responsibility to inform the employer about the issue under the law. However, as soon as a Muslim employee asks the employer to provide a religious accommodation regarding prayer, the employer must make efforts to reasonably accommodate this request.