Islamic veil may be banned in the workplace, finds EU court

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The ban on the Islamic headscarf in the workplace is not “direct discrimination” and can be “objectively justified”, ruled the European Court of Justice Tuesday (March 14).

The judges said the dismissal of a Muslim employee who insisted on wearing a headscarf – despite an internal company rule prohibiting any sign of political, philosophical or religious beliefs – did not violate EU law.

They followed the opinion of the Court’s Advocate General, published last year.

The Luxembourg court had been requested by the Court of Cassation, the Belgian court of last resort, in the Samira Achbita case, dismissed in 2006 by the service company G4S. G4S had told Achbita that wearing the veil was against the company’s policy of neutrality in its dealings with customers.

Achbita was hired in 2003 and started wearing the veil in 2006. G4S changed its house rules to ban posters after Achbita started wearing the veil.

EU judges said the domestic rule, which banned signs of all religions or political affiliations, “does not introduce a difference in treatment directly based on religion or belief” and is therefore in line with To the European directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

“It is not obvious, from the elements of the file available to the Court, that this internal rule was applied differently to Ms. Achbita compared to other G4S employees,” they said in their decision.

The EU court, however, said that an internal company rule could be discriminatory if it introduced “a difference in treatment indirectly based on religion or belief”, putting people who “adhere to a religion or belief”. particular conviction… in a particular disadvantageous situation ”.

But she added that such indirect discrimination could be “objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its clients, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, provided that the means to achieve this objective are appropriate and necessary.

In Achbita’s case, the EU court said the ban should cover “only G4S workers who interact with customers”.

“If this is the case, the ban must be considered as strictly necessary for the purposes of achieving the aim pursued”, he said, adding that it will be up to the Belgian Court of Cassation to verify these conditions.

In another case submitted to it, the CJEU provided further criteria to determine whether the ban on the veil at work was legitimate or not.

The judges said that “the wishes of a client to no longer have the services” of a company where the employees wear an Islamic headscarf could not be considered “genuine and determinative of the professional requirement”.

The court ruled on the case of a design engineer, Asma Bougnaoui, dismissed in 2008 by a French company, Micropole, following a complaint from a client.

Bougnaoui had been informed before starting an internship in the company that wearing a headscarf would be problematic to get in touch with customers. At first she wore a bandana, then later switched to a veil.

The ECJ did not rule and asked the French Court of Cassation to verify the conditions of discrimination set out in the Achbita vs G4S case.

Amnesty International said both decisions were “disappointing”.

They give “greater latitude to employers to discriminate against women – and men – on the basis of their religious beliefs,” the NGO’s director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement. .

“At a time when identity and appearance have become a political battleground, people need more protection against prejudice, not less,” he noted.


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