Sunday

16th May 2021

Islamic veil can be banned in workplace, says EU court

  • Banning the veil, as well as all signs of religions or political affiliations, does "not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief", the ECJ said. (Photo: Michael Coghlan)

Banning Islamic headscarves in the workplace is not "direct discrimination" and can be "objectively justified", ruled the European Court of Justice on Tuesday (14 March).

Judges said that the dismissal of a Muslim employee who insisted on wearing a headscarf - despite an internal company rule prohibiting any sign of political, philosophical or religious beliefs - did not constitute a breach of EU law.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

They followed the opinion of the court's advocate general, published last year.

The Luxembourg-based court had been solicited by the Court of Cassation, Belgium's court of last resort, over the case of Samira Achbita, who was dismissed in 2006 by the service company G4S. G4S had told Achbita that wearing a veil was contrary to the company's policy of neutrality in its contact with customers.

Achbita was hired in 2003 and started to wear a veil in 2006. G4S amended its internal rules to ban signs after Achbita started to wear the veil.

EU judges said that the internal rule, which banned signs from all religions or political affiliations, did "not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief" and that it was therefore in line with the EU directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

"It is not evident from the material in the file available to the Court that that internal rule was applied differently to Ms. Achbita as compared to other G4S employees," they said in their ruling.

The EU court said however that an internal company rule could be discriminatory if it introduced "a difference of treatment that is indirectly based on religion or belief", putting people that are "adhering to a particular religion or belief … at a particular disadvantage".

But it added that such indirect discrimination could be "objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its customers, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, provided that the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary."

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

"If that is the case, the prohibition must be considered strictly necessary for the purpose of achieving the aim pursued," it said, adding that it will be up to the Belgian Court of Cassation to check those conditions.

In another case referred to it, the ECJ provided other criteria to determine whether banning veils at work was legitimate or not.

Judges said that "wishes of a customer no longer to have the services" of a company where employees wear an Islamic headscarf could not be considered "genuine and determining occupational requirement".

The court gave their opinion about the case of a design engineer, Asma Bougnaoui, who was dismissed in 2008 by a French company, Micropole, after a customer's complaint.

Bougnaoui had been told before starting an internship at the company that wearing a headscarf would be problematic when coming into contact with customers. At first, she wore a bandana and then later switched to a veil.

The ECJ did not give a ruling and instead asked the French Court of Cassation to check the conditions for discrimination set out in the case of Achbita vs G4S.

Amnesty International said that the two decisions were "disappointing".

They give "greater leeway to employers to discriminate against women - and men - on the grounds of religious belief," the NGO's Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement.

"At a time when identity and appearance has become a political battleground, people need more protection against prejudice, not less," he noted.

MEPs call for workers to have 'right to disconnect'

MEPs called for a new law guaranteeing workers can 'disconnect' outside work hours, without repercussion. But they also passed a last-minute amendment, calling on the commission to delay any legislation for three years.

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

Opinion

Sweden's non-lockdown didn't work - why not?

The Swedish king would have been better advised to use his annual Christmas interview to call for unity of purpose and shed light on the political roots of the country's response.

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us