A RECEPTIONIST at the Belgium office of G4S, a British company, was sacked in 2006 after starting to wear a headscarf as an open demonstration of her Muslim faith, despite it being an unwritten rule that this was not allowed.
Since that time, Amira Achbita has been fighting the sacking and her case, which is supported by the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities, has passed through various courts in Belgium before being sent to the European Court of Justice which is expected to make a ruling within the next few months.
In an unusual step, an Advocate General at the court, Juliane Kokott a senior lawyer, has issued an opinion that companies should be free to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves at work if they have a general policy barring all religious and political symbols.
Whilst there would be no obligation on any company to ban any form of religious observance (unless such a ban was covered by a State law), it would be possible to restrict the wearing of any religious or other accoutrement provided that the employer is even-handed in the manner in which it acts.
This does mean however that a Sikh male would be required to remove any turban, an orthodox Jew male would have to remove his kippah and tzitzis if visible and a Christian any crosses worn for religious reasons.
The opinion goes to great length to stress that it is not just a ban on religious images in order to deflect criticism from religious groups and G4S Belgium introduced a written regulation following the dismissal MS Achbita that banned “any visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.”
Both France and Belgium have already banned various forms of female Muslim headdress but this is the first time that the EU appears to be taking a stance on the matter, although everything will be speculation until such time as the courts ruling is handed down.