April 30, 2017

Employers Can Ban Headscarf, Other Religious Symbols At Work, Rules EU Court

15 March 2017, 12:59 | Simon Arnold

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday that employers have the right to bar staff from wearing religious symbols, in a judgement many see as targeting Muslim women. "In this case, this judgment forces Muslim women who wear a headscarf, Sikhs wearing a turban and Jews wearing a kippa to choose between their religious expression, which is a fundamental right, and their right to access the labour market".

The European Court of Justice has ruled that companies can ban employees from wearing headscarves and any other religious symbols.

The Muslim women - a receptionist working at security firm G4S in Belgium and a consultant at Micropole in France - had taken their cases to national courts, who then referred the matter to the ECJ. The firm hired her as a design engineer at the end of her internship but a customer complained about her hijab and the firm asked her not to wear it. Bougnaoui objected and was sacked, leading her to challenged her dismissal in the French courts.

In the ruling, the ECJ stated employers are only able to dismiss employees based on their dress should there be a pre-existing internal ruling on "neutral" dressing.

Two cases brought before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have been settled with far-reaching implications for citizens of faith.

Ms Achbita claimed she was discriminated against because of her religion.

She wants to extend a 2004 law banning headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols from the nation's classrooms to all public spaces, including the streets.

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The court ruled in favour of the company because it had an "image neutrality" policy prohibiting the wearing of any religious clothing or symbols.

In the Belgian suit, Samira Achbita was sacked from the security firm where she'd worked for three years after she began wearing a hijab to work - the company reportedly said she'd broken "unwritten rules" prohibiting religious symbols.

In Achbita's case, the European Union court said that the prohibition must cover "only G4S workers who interact with customers".

The ECJ concluded that Bougnaoui had indeed been treated differently and so the client's demand that she not wear a hijab "cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement". "But by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a backdoor to precisely such prejudice".

Kim Lecoyer, president of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera the ruling justified discrimination based on religious grounds.

Amnesty International said the rulings were "disappointing".

The decision was widely welcomed in a country where the separation of state and religion is a central part of its legal system.

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