Friday, October 21, 2011

Hertz Fires Drivers Over Religious Dispute

If you've not already seen it, here's a brief online news report:

Muslims are required to make five formal prayers at prescribed times of day. The required ritual part of these prayers involves kneeling and bowing; the prayers can't be recited while driving a car or in a public restroom. (Traditionally they have been recited outdoors, however, by travellers carrying portable prayer mats.) There is no real reason why a driver could not pull over and pray on the sidewalk.

Hertz claims that some of its drivers have been praying for longer than the ten minutes they're allowed for ordinary breaks, such as bathroom and cigarette breaks, which all drivers are allowed to take. This may indicate that the drivers are incorporating personal, informal prayers--as it might be for safety--into their required break time.

Should customers have to wait for a driver who needs more than a ten-minute break? This customer says, we may not like it, but yes, we should. A person who frequently needs longer breaks probably shouldn't make driving a profession, but a driver who needs a break--whether it's to sneeze, take a nap, smoke, use a toilet, take a finger-stick test and inject insulin, calm down from a burst of road rage, or anything else, including praying--should take that break before putting the car back into motion.

This is a safety issue of which Hertz should be well aware. Yes, being a safe driver may inconvenience people who are thinking only in terms of how fast it's possible to get from point A to point B. (I should know; I'm so safety-conscious that, with my astigmatism, I try to avoid driving altogether, and don't even own a car.) Being a speed-focussed driver is likely to be much more inconvenient to more people when the speed-focussed driver runs into them.

I think Hertz should forget the whole idea of timing breaks. If a driver habitually takes much longer than expected to get to his or her destination, there may be a valid reason for this driver to look for a different kind of job...but if a driver occasionally needs to spend extra time in prayer, in the bathroom, or in deep-breathing exercises beside the road in heavy traffic, everyone should be grateful that the driver is taking that time rather than becoming a hazard to others.

And if the problem is that Muslim drivers are trying to seclude themselves from the sight of non-Muslim customers...maybe all of us need to become more sensitive to the need for meditation, if not prayer, breaks during the day. It won't hurt anybody who works with a Muslim to keep track of the prescribed prayer times during the work day and use those times for our own form of prayer, or for silent meditation and deep breathing.