Internal rules to prohibit headscarf ruled not to be direct discrimination

Employers can stop employees from wearing a headscarf but only if they have an internal rule which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled.

However, in the absence of such a rule, there may legally be discrimination if employers have job requirements around taking account of the wishes of a customer to no longer have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf.

In the first case, Samira Achbita, a Muslim, was employed as a receptionist by G4S from 2003 to 2006.  However, she was dismissed for insisting on wearing the headscarf after rules at the company came into force providing that “employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs”.

The Court of Justice found that G4S’s internal rule refers to the wearing of any visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and is therefore neutral, covering all visible signs of belief without distinction.

The court noted however that a national court might conclude that the internal rule introduces a difference of treatment that is indirectly based on religion or belief if, in practice, the internal rule means that people of a particular religion or belief are being put at a disadvantage.
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Image credit: Logan Campbell, Flickr 

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