Hertz Fires 26 Muslims For Refusing to Clock Out During Prayer Breaks

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A traveler boards a Hertz shuttle bus in Chicago

Prayer breaks were breaking protocol at one Hertz location, leading the company to slam the brakes on the employees.

The Hertz branch at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has fired 26 Somali Muslims who refused to clock out during prayers. They are among 34 employees suspended in September for failing to punch out during prayers. Eight were reinstated after signing an agreement to clock out by the Thursday deadline. The holdouts were sent termination letters.

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Hertz spokesman Richard Broome says he’s “disappointed” that an agreement couldn’t be reached between the company and the 26 now ex-employees. He says that many of the workers failed to return promptly after prayers, leading to the harsh punishment. “It’s not about prayer, it’s not about religion; it’s about reasonable requirements,” Broome told the Associated Press earlier this month. Broome said the frequent unannounced prayer created an “unmanageable, unfair work environment” at the location.

But being forced to clock out is a new policy for Hertz, according to the Teamsters Local 117 union who fought on behalf of the Muslim workers. According to the union, a collective bargaining agreement last year stated they wouldn’t have to punch out for prayer. But a new policy implemented Sept. 30 noted all breaks would have to be clocked out, a note that specifically referenced prayer breaks.

“We feel like we’re being punished for what we believe in,” said former Hertz employee Ileys Omar, who prays five times a day. “It’s five minutes. It’s not as big deal as the company’s making it,” Omar told KOMO News. After all, the union notes that the punch-out policy doesn’t apply to smoke breaks.

Five minutes for spiritual enlightenment sounds a bit healthier than puffing away on a cigarette.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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