EU Court: Employers can prohibit religious symbols in workplace


European Union


Protesters take part in a rally against the prohibition of head scarfs in Universities in Brussels, Belgium, on July 05th, 2020. Belgium's Constitutional Court, on June 04th 2020, ruled that a ban on wearing a headscarf at Universities is not unconstitutional and compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. photo EPA, Aris Oikonomou

Employers are allowed to prohibit their staff from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols, even if the practical consequence is that believers are treated unequally; the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday, July 15th.

Employers must, however, be able to prove that their customers want this. For example, if parents ask the nursery leader not to wear a cross around their neck, they have to obey.

The court justifies their judgement by saying that it is “an employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.”, Politico writes.

The Luxembourg court previously allowed employers to ask their employees to dress neutrally. That rule, however, had to apply to all staff. It was not permitted to target a specific faith or belief.

In practice, however, such a neutrality rule can turn out discriminatory, the court acknowledges. After all, this hinders employees who, based on their faith or conviction, want to dress up in a certain way more than others.

Employers cannot distinguish between large religious signs, such as a skullcap, headscarf or turban, and more minor variants such as a modest cross necklace. That would disadvantage people who have a belief or belief that uses very visible symbols.

According to Politico, the case was brought by two Muslim women from Germany who were barred from their workplaces for wearing a headscarf. One of the women works as a special needs childcare worker; the other is a sales assistant for a chemist. After returning from parental leave, they were both obliged to remove their scarves.

The German courts took the cases to the EU’s top court, seeking advice on the EU’s employment directive.



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