Europe's Employers Can Ban Headscarves at Work, ECJ Rules

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has issued a verdict on Tuesday whereby employers can ban women from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols at workplaces.

In the other case, Asma Bougnaoui, a Muslim woman, arrived at Micropole - a consulting, engineering, and training firm - in France for an internship in February 2008 wearing a bandana but later wore a headscarf.

A top European court has ruled companies are within their rights to dismiss employees for wearing religious symbols, in a case brought after two women were fired for wearing headscarves. The other case involved design engineer Asma Bougnaoui, who was sacked from her IT job when a customer said his staff was "embarrassed" by her headscarf, the Guardian reported.

However, acting against an employee based on a condition, like, say, if a particular client objected, would amount to breaching European Union law, which bars discrimination on religious grounds, as the court observed in a different ruling involving a French company that dismissed a software engineer for refusing to remove her headscarf, as per the report.

One woman lost her job in France because a customer complained to the company about her Islamic headscarf.

A French court would have to determine whether the company in this case had dismissed Ms Bougnaoui exclusively to satisfy a customer or in accordance with a wider internal prohibition on religious symbols, the court said.

Tutton added that while Prime Minister Theresa May is set to enact Article 50 - the process for beginning talks with European Union partners on Brexit - ECJ rules will still apply in the United Kingdom for at least three years.

"It is not evident from the material in the file available to the Court that that internal rule was applied differently to Ms. Achbita as compared to other G4S employees", they said in their ruling.

For years, courts across Europe have faced complex decisions on religious symbols in the workplace.

That ruling came from a case in France.

"In many member states, national laws will still recognize that banning religious headscarves at work is discrimination", an OSJI's spokeswoman said.

However the Court has left it open to the Belgian court to conclude that such a rule might amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief if it could be established that a neutrality rule put "persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage".

"Such a ban may be justified if it enables the employer to pursue the legitimate policy of ensuring religious and ideological neutrality", she added.

In June 2006, Achbita was dismissed because of her continuing insistence on wearing the headscarf at work.

The ECJ sent Bougnaoui back to the French domestic court to consider the case in light of the guidance it gave in Achbita.

The court ruled that the Frenchwoman had suffered discrimination and that customers' wishes did not give companies an excuse from complying with European Union anti-discrimination law.

At the time, the company had an "unwritten rule" that employees should not wear any political, religious or philosophical symbols at work, the court said.