EU Court Allows Employers to Ban Islamic Headscarves

EU Court Allows Employers to Ban Islamic Headscarves

The European Court of Justice held a company's ban on the Muslim headscarf in the workplace is not direct discrimination, if all employees, regardless of religious background, are treated the same.

A statement issued by the court states that companies now have the right to ban religious, political or philosophical symbols according to their internal regulations and rules.

In the case of receptionist Samira Achbita, another European Union court advocate general Juliane Kokott concluded that her wearing a headscarf at a Belgian security firm did "not constitute direct discrimination based on religion" in terms of the directive "if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace".

The decision stemmed from two cases in France and Belgium where women were dismissed from their jobs for wearing headscarves to work; one woman was sacked for violating her company's informal neutral dress policy, the other was asked to leave after a customer complained about her head covering.

The court's ruling was conferred after a case about a receptionist who was sacked from security company G4S in Belgium for wearing a headscarf. In that case, the court ruled that a customer's complaint alone does not meet the requirement for a company to ban religious symbols.

Although they apply to all beliefs, the ECJ said it was "not inconceivable" that such rules could be deemed discriminatory for indirectly targeting Islam over other religions. The court ruled that the firm was not guilty of discrimination, said a Reuters report.




The court ruled the airline had failed to strike a balance between corporate image and articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protect "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and prohibit religious discrimination.

The rulings come after courts in Belgium and France referred controversial domestic cases to Europe's top court.

The issues of Muslim dress and the integration of immigrant communities has featured prominently in debates in several European countries in recent years.

"Accordingly, such an internal rule does not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief", it said.

The case in involved a French software designer, Asma Bougnaoui, who was sacked in 2008 after a customer complained she was wearing a veil.

However they found that Bougnaoui had suffered discrimination and that a customers' objections did not warrant a legitimate cause for dismissing her.

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