EU companies could justify ban on headscarves

In certain circumstances, banning headscarves, and other religious or political symbols, could be justified. [Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr]

A senior jurist of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said that under certain conditions, EU companies could ban employees from wearing headscarves. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Germany’s Advocate General at the ECJ, Juliane Kokott, whose opinion is often sought before high-profile cases and sentencing, said that companies could be within their rights to prohibit the wearing of religious headscarves, if the company in question pursues a policy of “religious and ideological neutrality”.

In a statement published yesterday (31 May), Kokott referred to a case in which a Belgian worker, who is also a practising Muslim, was fired because she refused to come to work without her scarf.

Samira Achbita worked as a receptionist for G4S Secure Solutions for three years, after which the security giant announced that it would no longer allow its employees to wear visible political, religious or philosophical symbols at work.

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With the backing of the Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities and Combating Racism, Achbita sued for damages, but Belgian judges ruled against her on two separate occasions.

Now, her appeal is being considered by the country’s Court of Cassation, and it has asked the ECJ for a clarification on the issue before it comes to a final decision.

The Advocate General said that there would be no case for discrimination if a Muslim was prohibited from wearing a headscarf, if the company in question had the above-mentioned policy of neutrality.

She clarified that this would only be the case if the policy was not based on stereotypes or prejudices against one or specific faiths or beliefs, as this would indeed account to discrimination.

The jurist acknowledged that the case could involve indirect discrimination, but added that it was justified so long as the principle of proportionality continued to be respected.

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Her final opinion, which is by no means binding, recommended that national courts should assess the details of the case and how proportional a ban would be. More specifically, Kokott said that G4S was within its rights to have a policy of neutrality given the “special nature of the work which its employees do”.

She added that “while an employee cannot leave his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability at the door”, they may still be expected to moderate their practice of religion while at the workplace.

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