Published: Wed, March 15, 2017
Sport | By Desiree Waters

ECJ Allows Employers to Ban Headscarves among Other Religious Symbols

ECJ Allows Employers to Ban Headscarves among Other Religious Symbols

In the Belgian case, Samira Achbita was sacked as a receptionist by a security company after she insisted she should be allowed to work wearing an Islamic headscarf.

In January this year, Austria's government agreed to ban full-face veils in public places such as courts and schools.

Rights group Amnesty International said the decision was "disappointing" and would only encourage discrimination.

However, in a related case in France, the ECJ ruled a customer could not demand that a company employee not wear a hijab when conducting business with them on its behalf.

Phil Pepper, employment law partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said employers should be extremely wary of adopting a blanket ban on political, philosophical or religious symbols in the wake of the case.

In Germany, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany also sharply criticized the ruling, saying it was in contradiction with the basic freedoms guaranteed under the major European conventions on human rights.

The employer subsequently amended its written rules on workplace dress and appearance.

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Corbyn has a state pension, union income and a pension from his time in local government with Haringey Council. He added: "This demonstration politics isn't helping to create a better atmosphere in British politics".

In sum, the European Union court's ruling does allow so-called "indirect discrimination" if it is "objectively justified by a legitimate aim", such as a company's policy of neutrality. There was no trace of direct discrimination - as stated in art. 1 of Council Directive 2000/78/EC - for the ban did not target Muslims, but religion in general. Prohibiting wearing a headscarf, under such circumstances where the rule was applied in a "consistent and systematic manner" did not "constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief", it concluded. Achbita was sacked and she filed a lawsuit in Belgium, which then went to the European Union court. It also isn't legal for an employer to base its stance towards headscarves exclusively on customer complaints.

The ECJ ruling on wearing Islamic headscarves in the workplace passed some responsibility onto the national laws of member states, but Europe has a patchwork response when it comes to this controversial issue.

The decision came after Belgium's court of cassation referred the case of a Muslim receptionist, who was sacked for wearing a headscarf, to Europe's top court.

The ECJ said the Belgian courts must research whether G4S was indeed simply implementing its policy, or seeking to discriminate against an employee based on their religion.

How has this ruling been received?

Court ruled out the argument that that banning headscarf at workplace would amount to discrimination.

Jonathan Chamberlain, a partner at United Kingdom firm Gowling WLG, said Tuesday's ruling reflected "what has been the UK's approach for some years". Such a measure was only justified if religious symbols represented a "concrete danger, or the disturbance of school peace". Past cases, including that of cross-wearing British Airways worker Nadia Eweida, had been broadly taken to mean employers were not able to ban religious symbols or attire simply on corporate grounds, as opposed to health and safety requirements.

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