The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that employers can prohibit their staff from wearing visible symbols of religious or political beliefs, including headscarves, in order to present an image of neutrality.
The Court ruled on the case following referrals to the Hamburg Labor Court and the Federal Labor Court of Germany, which had asked the European Court to examine whether the dismissal of two Muslim women from their jobs in because of their failure to comply with ordinances prohibiting the wearing of their hijab was in line with EU law on equal treatment in employment and occupation.
The first woman was fired from her job at a daycare center following her refusal to comply with a rule prohibiting employees from wearing any visible political, philosophical or religious signs in the workplace when in contact with children or their parents. She challenged her dismissal on the grounds that the ban “directly targeted the wearing of the Islamic headscarf and therefore constituted direct discrimination”, and that given its greater impact on migrant women, it was also likely to constitute discrimination on the basis of on ethnic origin. She further supported her claim by arguing that the German Federal Constitutional Court had previously ruled that a ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf at work, in a daycare center, could constitute a serious infringement of the freedom of belief and faith and that for such a ban to be admissible, it had to relate to an established and specific risk.
The second woman, for her part, initiated proceedings challenging the legality of the instruction given to her by her employer, a company operating pharmacies, to refrain from wearing conspicuous signs in the workplace, tall, political, philosophical or religious. She claimed that the company’s internal rules violated her freedom of religion and that the company’s policies did not have unconditional priority over freedom of religion and should in addition be subjected to a proportionality test.
In its decision, the Court considered that certain prohibitions relating to the wearing of religious symbols could be justified in particular circumstances. More specifically, the Court ruled that:
indirect discrimination based on religion or beliefs resulting from an internal rule of a company prohibiting, in the workplace, the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in order to ensure a policy of neutrality within this business can be justified only if this prohibition covers all visible forms of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.
The Court, however, provided a limit to these prohibitions, further considering that a “prohibition which is limited to the wearing of conspicuous and large signs of political, philosophical or religious convictions” would be liable to constitute direct discrimination based on religion or religion. conviction and can in no case be justified.
The European Court’s ruling is just one of many decisions involving bans on wearing religious clothing such as the Hijab. The Austrian Constitutional Court ruled last December that a ban on headscarves in elementary schools violated the principle of equality in relation to an individual’s right to religious freedom.