EU court rules employers can ban headscarves
17 March, 2017
Private employers may bar staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols under certain conditions, the European Union’s top court ruled last Tuesday.
The Court of Justice (ECJ) found that an internal rule which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.The ban cannot be based on the wishes of a customer, the ECJ ruled, and must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”.
The ruling made by the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the 28-nation EU, was in response to two cases brought by a Belgian and a French woman, both fired for refusing to remove their headscarves. Samira Achbita, a receptionist at G4S in Belgium, was dismissed in June 2006 after insisting on wearing the Islamic headscarf at work. She challenged her dismissal in the Belgian courts, which referred the case to the ECJ in relation to interpretation of an EU directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.
"The willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement," the court said. It refers to another case in this ruling - that of design engineer Asma Bougnaoui, who lost her job at French firm Micropole, after a customer complained that she wore an Islamic headscarf.