Hertz fires 26 Muslim drivers in prayer break dispute

Hertz fires 26 Muslim drivers in prayer break dispute »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Car rental firm Hertz fired 26 employees at its Sea-Tac Airport location for failing to clock out when they take their prayer breaks.

The employees say Hertz is trampling on their right to religious freedom, but the company says it's merely trying to promote fairness in the workplace.

"We feel like we're being punished for what we believe in," said former Hertz employee Ileys Omar.

Omar is a Muslim who prays five times a day. In the past, Muslim employees at Hertz paused for their prayers without clocking out.

"It's five minutes. It's not as big deal as the company's making it," Omar said.

But Hertz says some employees were abusing their privilege to pray. In an e-mail, spokesman Richard Broome said the abuse "had become a significant problem creating issues of fairness among employees."

Teamsters Union 117, which represents Hertz drivers, says a blanket policy is not the way to address such an issue.

"If there's a problem with the performance or the conduct of any employee, you have the right to deal with that employee individually. That's not what they did here," said union spokesperson Tracey Thompson.

The union provided KOMO News with a notice that was posted for employees at Hertz earlier this year. It stated employees who want to take their 10-minute break in smaller chunks don't have to punch in and out, but must notify their supervisor.

Then on Sept. 30, Hertz posted a new policy that states all rest and meal periods must be punched, including all religious observation, according to the union.

"The company unilaterally implemented this policy to clock in and out, and specifically identified prayer breaks in their policy. They have not applied the policy to people who take smoke breaks," Thompson said.

Hertz said clocking out is required for all breaks, and it is now enforcing that policy to prevent abuse.

The union says it is fighting the terminations through grievance and arbitration procedures and is also filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, as well as religious discrimination complaints with the EEOC.