Europe’s top court has ruled that employers are allowed to ban workers from the “visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” including headscarves.
However, the European court of Justice (ECJ) has specified that such prohibition must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally” – rather than it being based on the wishes of a customer.
The court’s decision is the first to explicitly appertain to Islamic headscarves at work.
The ruling of the court transpired owing to a well-known case of a receptionist being fired for wearing a headscarf to work at the company G4S in Belgium.
In light of the court’s ruling, Stephen Evans from Britain’s National Secular Society commented that,
“Religious and political neutrality is a perfectly reasonable aim”, and “this ruling demonstrates that this approach is perfectly consistent with equality and human rights law, and that businesses and organisations who wish to present themselves in a neutral way are able to do so”.
Evans went on to say that, “Where a ban on employees wearing religious or political symbols is founded on a general company rule of religious neutrality, and where that rule is applied equally to all, it can’t realistically be argued that this constitutes ‘less favourable treatment'”.
‘This is not discriminatory’
In May 2016, Juliane Kokott, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, said that G4S was entitled to dismiss the receptionist, a Belgium citizen called Samira Achibita, after the Hijabi flouted an internal uniform policy by announcing she would wear a headscarf at work, saying that the company had a right to a “policy of strict religious and ideological neutrality”.
Samira Achibita claimed she was being discriminated against on the grounds of her religion.
Nevertheless, the court, in its ruling, delineated the fact that G4S amended workplace regulations to forbid employees “from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs”.
It said that this amendment has covered “any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction”, and was therefore not discriminatory.
The court went on to say that, “An employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate”. However, national courts must make sure this policy of neutrality had been doled out in equal measure to all employees.
The court also said that the Belgian court ruling on the case must also determine how viable it could be to provide Samira Achbita another post not involving visual contact with customers.