European Court of Justice rules employers can ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols

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EUROPE’S top court has ruled that private companies are justified, on certain grounds, to bar female employees from wearing a Muslim headscarf or veil.

The ECJ has issued a judgement on two cases relating to Asma Bougnaoui, a software engineer at Micropole in France and Samira Achbita a receptionist in Belgium, who was employed by G4S.

The court said, “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”

“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.”

In the first case Samira Achbita decided she wanted to start wearing a headscarf at work for religious reasons after three years at the firm. In June 2006 she was sacked for refusing to take off her scarf. The company said she had broken unwritten rules prohibiting religious symbols.

And design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from IT consultancy firm, Micropole, following a complaint from a customer who claimed his staff had been “embarrassed” by her headscarf while she was on their premises giving advice.

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