Have you ever wondered why more businesses in the United States close on Christmas than on any other holiday?

Sure, some of it is tradition--we've always been closed. But, some of it is simply practical: 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, including the bosses. So, companies close.

But, the religious makeup of the United States is changing and Amazon is doing the right thing when it comes to dealing with that change.

In Amazon's Minnesota warehouses, over 1,000 East African Muslim immigrants are working and observing Ramadan, Bloomberg reports. This month-long holiday involves fasting during daylight hours, among other things. An unfortunate cross-over of calendars means that these religious observances fall during the ramp up for Amazon Prime day. (Although Amazon hasn't officially announced the date for Prime Day). 

Amazon has agreed to "ease up on quotas" and create prayer rooms for the duration of the fast. 

Why allow these accommodations?

First of all, because it's the law. When you have an employee with a sincerely held religious belief that conflicts with some aspect of their job, you have the obligation to make an accommodation as long as it doesn't pose an "undue hardship" on the business. This is a much lower standard than what you would be required to do for a disability, but there is a legal obligation to make an accommodation when possible.

You could argue that having 1000 employees needing accommodations at the same time would be a hardship for the company, but when you consider that Amazon has over half a million employees, 1000 employees is a tiny drop in the bucket.

Second, it's the right way to treat your employees. In a statement, Amazon said:

 "We offer a positive, safe and accommodating workplace for employees, including providing a great pay of $15 per hour and comprehensive benefits. We respect the religious practices of employees and offer accommodations as needed." 

 Unemployment numbers are super low right now. There are currently more open jobs than there are unemployed people. Amazon may be starting to understand that it's important to treat your current employees well if you don't want them to run to a competitor. Amazon has a reputation for being a brutal place to work. With unemployment numbers being so low, they are smart to make changes. 

Third, the employees were engaging in "concerted activity." According to Bloomberg, employees weren't trying to unionize, but that isn't the only thing that triggers concerted action. Anytime you have two or more employees discussing working conditions there are protections under the National Labor Relations Act. 

In this situation, employees went in groups to HR and held a small protest. These things are textbook "concerted action." This gives the workers legal protection, and Amazon was smart to recognize it.

Other businesses should follow Amazon's lead in this and recognize the importance of respecting employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. And the Somali employees handled this correctly. 

Published on: Jun 8, 2018