Equal under the law

Adapting quickly

In each case, the processor was at the receiving end of a backlash. Both Tyson and JBS-Swift reacted quickly, keeping the public apprised of what was being done to resolve the issues.

Tyson’s actions included going back to the union. They asked Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) local at the plant to reconsider the provision that allowed for Eid ul-Fitr to be a paid holiday after both concerns from other workers and a surprisingly strong public reaction. Mickelson says the union agreed and allowed workers to vote on this issue alone. As a result, the union membership voted overwhelmingly to reinstate Labor Day as one of the plant’s paid holidays.

For the remainder of the five-year contract period between the RWDSU and the Shelbyville plant, the eight paid holidays will include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and a Personal Holiday, which could either be the employee’s birthday, Eid ul-Fitr or another day requested and approved by their supervisor.

As the American population continues to change, challenges like this will arise again. In these cases, only one plant was involved, and the issue was handled by negotiations by the company and the union representing workers at the plant.

“We strive to reasonably accommodate our team members’ religious beliefs and practices, as required by the law,” says Mickelson.“In addition, one of Tyson’s Core Values is to be a faith-friendly company.”

The company uses multiple methods to improve communication when comes to adapting to religious needs, including its human resources, diversity and chaplaincy staff. In the end, the compromise reached with the union was acceptable by all the workers at the Shelbyville plant.

According to the EEOC, employers must permit employees to engage in religious expression, unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Generally, an employer may not place more restrictions on religious expression than on other forms of expression that have a comparable effect on workplace efficiency.

Companies are also required to take steps to prevent religious harassment of employees. The EEOC says an employer can reduce the chance that employees will engage unlawful religious harassment by implementing an anti-harassment policy and having an effective procedure for reporting, investigating and correcting harassing conduct.

Tyson and JBS-Swift do follow the law and work to ensure a safe environment for all of its workers.

“JBS values its diverse workforce and has a long track record of making significant accommodations to employees,” says Tamara Smid, spokeswoman for JBS-Swift. “We work closely with all employees and union representation to accommodate religious practices in a reasonable, safe and fair manner.”

To learn about the requirements for employers, go to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at http://www.eeoc.gov/ .