Work places can now ban the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” and must dress within a “neutral dress code”, according to new ruling by the top European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Discussions were prompted by the case of a receptionist who was fired for wearing a headscarf to work at the security company, G4S in Belgium.
The court reiterated: “G4S’s rules prohibited any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction”, and were therefore not directly discriminatory. An employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate”
The court confirmed that the ban also extends to other religious insignia such as crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans.
However, the rulings stipulated that the ban could not be based on an individual’s subjective considerations, for example customer preferences.
“The willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement,” the court said.
Conservative candidate in the French presidential election, François Fillon, has spoken out in defence of the decision. He deemed the ruling as “an immense relief” that would lead to “social peace.”
The United Sikhs advocacy expressed concerns with the decisions made, saying they were “disturbing” with the ruling disregarding fundamental human rights.”
Mejindarpal Kaur, the group’s international legal director, said that “although the ECJ only allowed for rules with legitimate aims, we fear that employers will treat it as a licence to discriminate at the point of hire”.
John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme, said the ECJ’s decision gave “greater leeway to employers to discriminate against women and men on the grounds of religious belief”.
“The court did say that employers are not at liberty to pander to the prejudices of their clients. But by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a backdoor to precisely such prejudice.”