EU supreme court rules that banning headscarves can be justified in some cases
The EU supreme court has ruled that German employers can be justified in implementing a ban on religious symbols, such as headscarves, in two cases brought before German courts by Muslim women.
Religious symbols can be banned by German employers
On Thursday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a ban on religious symbols “may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.” The court made the ruling in reference to two cases brought to the German courts by Muslim women working in Germany. The two women had been banned from wearing the headscarves to work and had taken their employers to court over the matter. The German courts subsequently referred the cases to the ECJ.
In addition to its ruling, the ECJ added that any employer implementing a ban on religious symbols must also show that it is not discriminating against different religions and beliefs in doing so.
Ensuring a “policy of neutrality”
The ECJ said that, in individual cases, national courts must check to see whether company laws and decisions are in accordance with national laws on religious freedom and the need for a “policy of neutrality.” A decision on banning religious symbols must reflect “a genuine need on the part of the employer” the ECJ said, and it must also be made in line with “national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion."
The two Muslim women who took their cases to the German courts were both asked to not wear their headscarves upon returning from parental leave. One woman, who works as a chemist, had started working in 2002 and did not initially wear a headscarf. However, upon returning from maternity leave in 2014, she wanted to start wearing a headscarf to work. The ECJ said that the woman was then asked to come to work without "conspicuous, large-sized signs of any political, philosophical or religious beliefs.”
The other lady, who worked in special needs care at a non-profit organisation, was asked not to wear her headscarf upon returning to work as the organisation had issued a new policy forbidding staff in contact with customers from wearing any political, ideological or religious symbols. She eventually lost her job after refusing to remove the headscarf.