EU Decision on Banning Headscarves in the Workplace

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that employers can implement a ban on employees wearing headscarves in the workplace.

The first of two cases brought before the ECJ concerned a woman who was employed as a receptionist by G4S Secure Solutions.

After being employed by the company for three years, the claimant decided she wanted to start wearing a headscarf at work for religious reasons. The claimant was dismissed in 2006 for refusing to take off the headscarf and claimed she was directly discriminated against on the grounds of religion.

The company said they had an unwritten policy in place, where it placed a general ban on political, philosophical or religious symbols. The ECJ argued that companies should be allowed to have policies banning the wearing of religious and political symbols.

As G4S’s internal rule was broad in scope, the court said it treats all employees in the same way, by requiring them generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally. They found that G4S rules prohibited “any manifestation of such beliefs without distention and therefore was not directly discriminatory.

While having an objective justification for banning headscarves may help mitigate against a claim for direct discrimination, the concern regarding indirect discrimination still looms.

Discrimination is prohibited, unless objectively justified by a legitimate aim. According to the court “an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate, and achieved by means that are “appropriate and necessary.

An employer must ensure that a policy does not indirectly discriminate against a group of people with specific beliefs or put any group of people at an unfair disadvantage, unless justified by a legitimate aim.

The second case that was referred to the ECJ involved a claimant who was dismissed from her job at Micropole after the company received complaints from customers about her headscarf.

In this case, the court ruled that any ban could not be based on “subjective considerations. The court stated that “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”.

Learning points:

  1. General company bans that prohibit employees from wearing head scarves have been deemed by the ECJ non-discriminatory – as long as the policy for banning head scarves is neutral and has a legitimate aim.
  2. Employers cannot use complaints from customers to objectively justify insisting that employees remove headscarves or other religious garments.
  3. The ECJ case has brought forward a lot of controversy around the topic of religious garments in the workplace, and as such, a blanket approach should not be followed for all cases.

For more information in relation to banning religious garments and the effect on your organisation, you can contact the advice team on 01 886 0350.

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