Employers can ban religious dress, court rules

17th March 2017

Employers can ban religious dress, court rules

Employers can ban workers from wearing Islamic headscarves or any other “political, philosophical or religious sign”, Europe’s top court has ruled.

But to ensure the decision doesn’t constitute discrimination, it must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”, according to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The court ruled that limits on visible religious wear were permitted under EU law as long as they apply across the board — meaning any ban would have to include items such as turbans, Jewish kippahs or crucifixes as well as Islamic headscarves.

But the court also said that a ban may still constitute illegal “indirect discrimination” of Muslim staff, or anyone who visibly demonstrated their religion.

As a result, such a ban would be allowed only if the company deems a policy of “religious neutrality” as crucial to its business, with national courts deciding whether a company’s policy meets this standard.

It also said a customer’s desire to not be served by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf “cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement” — setting further limits on when a company can introduce such a rule.

The ECJ was ruling on the case of Samira Achbita, fired in June 2006 when, after three years of employment, she began wearing a headscarf to work.

She claimed she was being directly discriminated against on the grounds of her religion and Belgium’s court of cassation referred the case to the EU’s top court for clarification.

G4S’s rules prohibited “any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction”, and were therefore not directly discriminatory, the court said.

The issues of Muslim dress and the integration of immigrant communities have featured prominently in debates in several European countries in recent years. Austria and the German state of Bavaria have recently announced bans on full-face veils in public spaces.

How can our Employment Law lawyers help?

The complexity of this case highlights the importance of sound and clear employment law advice. Businesses and organisations need effective guidance to help protect their employees when things are going well and to protect themselves when relations break down.

When grievances and disputes with staff happen they take priority, regardless of the distraction this may cause you, and, if you don’t handle them correctly, there’s a real risk that you will end up in the Employment Tribunal.

Our specialist Suffolk solicitors act for businesses large and small in Suffolk, Essex and further afield and can guide you to where you need to be with a minimum of fuss and expense.

To find out how we can help your business, contact our employment solicitors on 01473 298126 or fill in our enquiry form. You can also visit any of our offices in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge or Melton.

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