Dell seeks to end dispute with Muslim workers

PC maker says it wants to reinstate 30 Muslim workers prevented from conducting traditional evening prayers during work hours.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
Dell is working to resolve a dispute with 30 Muslim workers who allege unfair treatment due to their religious beliefs.

The workers, contractors hired to work at Dell's Nashville, Tenn., manufacturing plant, left their jobs after being prevented from performing their traditional Muslim evening prayers, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington D.C., advocacy group. CAIR said the workers felt they had no choice but to leave the company because they were unable to stop work to pray.

A Dell spokesman said the workers were prevented from stopping work due to a misunderstanding, but were not fired by Dell.

Dell, the world's largest PC maker, said it has been working with CAIR, as well as the Nashville Metro Human Relations Commission, a city government council on employment, to resolve the issue. As part of that effort, it has offered to reinstate all 30 workers. So far, 13 have returned to their jobs, spokesman David Frink said.

Frink said the company supports a diverse work environment and has a long-standing policy of religious accommodation that allows for traditions such as Muslims' sundown prayers. Dell uses a so-called tag-out system where a small number of workers depart work to pray and relieve others to do so upon returning.

However, on Feb. 4, according to CAIR, management told workers they had to remain at their posts. The CAIR spokesman did not cite a reason.

"There was a misapplication of our long-standing practice to accommodate evening prayers," Frink said. But "we're confident that we're going to be appropriately able to resolve the issue."

Aside from entering into a dialog with CAIR and the Nashville Metro Human Relations Commission, Dell has taken steps to ensure its Nashville managers receive additional training on applying the religious accommodation policy, he said.

CAIR is representing 21 of the 30 workers, and in a March 10 letter to Dell CEO Kevin Rollins, the organization called on the company to hire the workers back. It also offered to help the company and the employees find a middle ground on the dispute.

"Given sufficient goodwill on the part of all those involved, both the employees' legal right to reasonable religious accommodation and the employer's right to maintain smooth operations in the workplace can be maintained," Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal director, said in a statement.