Headscarves can be banned at work, European court rules

Employers will be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves at work, the European Court of Justice has ruled. The court said that companies were able to ban “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign”. The ruling made clear that if the ban was only applied to Muslim members of staff it could still constitute discrimination. Companies would need to already have a policy in place prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols and would not be able to ban staff from wearing headscarves on the “wishes of a customer”.

[This] weakens the guarantee of equality that is at the heart of the EU’s anti-discrimination directive.

The Open Society Justice Initiative

The judgment was sparked by the cases of two women - one living in France and one in Belgium - who were dismissed from work after refusing to remove their headscarves. Samira Achbita, a receptionist for security company G4S, was dismissed after insisting on wearing her Islamic headscarf to work. The company told her there was an unwritten rule prohibiting employees from wearing visible signs of religion in the workplace. Ms Achbita challenged the decision in the Belgian courts, claiming she was being discriminated against at work on grounds of her religion. In the second case, design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from consultancy company Micropole, after a customer complained about her wearing of the Islamic headscarf. Ms Bougnaoui - who had refused to stop wearing her veil - had taken her case to the Court of Cassation in France.