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Employers are entitled to ban the Islamic headscarf in the workplace

Case C-157/15 and Case C – 188/15

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held that employers are entitled to ban religious symbols in the workplace, including the Islamic headscarf.

Two Muslim women, Ms Achbita (Case C-157/15), referred from Belgium, and Ms Bougnaoui (Case C – 188/15) referred from France, claimed that they were victims of discrimination, having been dismissed from employment for refusing to comply with their employers’ stipulations that they do not wear the Islamic headscarf.

In the Belgian case, the Court held that, ‘the prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf, which arises from an internal rule of a private undertaking prohibiting the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign in the workplace, does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief within the meaning of that directive.’  While an internal rule of a private undertaking may constitute indirect discrimination, it may be objectively justified by a ‘legitimate aim,’ such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its customers, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.’

In the French case, the Court found that a customer’s particular wishes could not dictate a genuine occupational requirement, and therefore an employer could not discriminate against anyone wearing the Islamic headscarf on this basis.  Therefore the Court has reserved the right of companies to ban all religious images in order to project a ‘neutral’ image, but also prohibited them from doing so merely to indulge customers’ prejudices.

Read UK Human Rights Blog article here.

Discrimination, Employment Law