Employers given green light to ban religious headscarves

Employmetn law, religion, tribunal court

European judges say no to whimsical headscarf bans

After complicated rulings by European judges on wearing religious symbols at work, employers need policies that do not discriminate.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) heard arguments in the case, Achbita and anor v G4S Secure Solutions NV (Case C-157/15). Judges said that a company ban on employees wearing visible signs of political, philosophical or religious belief was not necessarily discriminatory.

Nonetheless, they advised that if the policy was poorly implemented it could give rise to indirect discrimination – where an unnecessary rule unfairly hinders a particular group. Whatever the policy, employers must implement it across the board and apply it to all staff of all religions. So, if headscarves are banned, so too must be Christian crosses that are on open display.

Customer complaints are not policy

In a separate case, Bougnaoui and anor v Micropole SA (Case C-188/15), judges said it was discrimination if a company with no policy disciplined a worker in response to a customer complaint about a headscarf.

The ECJ said such treatment could not be defended on the basis of a ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’ under Article 4 of the EU Equal Treatment Framework Directive (No.2000/78). But it did in general defend an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality.

Guidance to national courts

The European rulings give guidance to national courts. The cases involved Muslim women workers who were sacked after ignoring instructions not to wear headscarves. G4S had a clothes policy and Micropole did not.

At G4S in Belgium, a Muslim receptionist wore a headscarf to work was later dismissed on 12 June 2006. She brought a wrongful dismissal and/or discrimination case but it was dismissed by a Labour Court. Her appeal was eventually referred to the ECJ.

In the other case, a Muslim design engineer for Micropole in France wore a headscarf even though she was told not to. She brought a case of religious discrimination after she was sacked.

Under the UK’s Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to treat a worker unfavourably because they had various ‘protected characteristics’ such as race, religious beliefs, gender, sexuality, and disability.

If employers or employees need advice on employees wearing clothing with religious and other beliefs, or policies on clothes, they can contact Sharma Solicitors on 0345 430 0145.

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