Colorado’s labor department has ruled that more than 100 Muslim workers fired from a Fort Morgan meatpacking plant are eligible for unemployment benefits because a company cannot force workers to choose between their religion and their jobs.
The workers filed for unemployment payments after they were fired in December by Cargill Inc., amid a dispute over whether the Muslim employees could take prayer breaks during their shifts. Cargill challenged the claims, but the company withdrew its appeals this summer after losing 20 cases, officials with the state Department of Labor said.
While the labor department declined to put a dollar amount on the total paid to the workers, Cher Haavind, the agency’s director of government, policy and public relations, said the average maximum benefit per claim was $8,841.
That means the payments could cost Colorado’s unemployment fund nearly $1 million. Unemployment benefits are funded by the state’s employers. Much like an insurance policy, a company’s rates rise with the number of claims filed from its former workers.