Ban on headscarves in the workplace – not direct discrimination!

21-03-2017

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) made an extremely controversial ruling last week that permits Employers in the European Union (EU) to ban employees from wearing religious symbols such as Christian crosses, and Islamic Headscarves.

The ruling arose when two Muslim women in Belgium were fired for refusing to remove their Islamic headscarves in the workplace, and they consequently took their employer to court.

An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court stated.

The ruling prevents displaying any form of religious, philosophical or political item across the board, not just specifically contrary to Islamic religion as it has been commented in the press.  This is also only permitted if there is a general policy implemented in the workplace by an employer. It is an optional ruling to be followed, however once implemented by an employer, it cannot be direct discrimination to prevent the wearing of such religious items.

It is a commercial choice for businesses as to whether or not they want to present themselves as politically and religiously neutral or whether or not they are happy to have religious, political and philosophical symbols in the workplace.

Events leading up to this ruling

On 2nd September 2004 in France a strict ban on Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols in schools was implemented to work towards creating religious neutrality and keeping state and religion separate.

On 11 April 2011, France also became the first country in the EU to ban the full-faced Islamic veil in public places. A few months later in July 2011, Belgium followed suit and banned the full-face veil too.

More recently Austria banned the full-face veil in January 2017.

It seems apparent that a large amount of legislation has been decided based on Islamic headscarves, yet the ECJ ruling ensures that all religions are treated the same to prevent discrimination taking place. However, it can be argued that different religions have more readily present symbols than others which is why full faced veils have been highlighted.

The choice of whether or not to implement the rule remains with the individual employer.


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