An employer can prohibit staff from wearing the Islamic headscarf or other religious symbols in the first case of its kind, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday.
An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discriminationEuropean Court of Justice
The ECJ ruled on the cases of two female employees in Belgium and in France, who were dismissed for refusing to remove their headscarves, a day before a Dutch parliamentary election when the issue of immigration and integration were at its peak.
The court's ruling considered the case of a Belgian woman working as a receptionist for G4S Secure Solutions, which has a general ban on wearing visible religious or political symbols.
However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination," added the court.
The court's advocate general last year recommended that companies should be allowed to prohibit headscarves as long as a general ban on other symbols was in place. Companies should though consider the conspicuousness of such symbols and the nature of the employee's activities.
The court's ruling will also cover a French IT consultant who was told to remove her headscarf after a client complained.
The advocate general's advice in the French case was that a rule banning employees from wearing religious symbols when in contact with customers was discrimination, particularly when it only applied to Islamic headscarves.