European companies can ban employees from wearing religious or political symbols including the Islamic headscarf, the EU’s top court ruled Tuesday in a controversial case.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said it does not constitute “direct discrimination” if a firm has an internal rule banning the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign.”
The Luxembourg-based court was ruling on the case of a Muslim woman fired by the security company G4S in Belgium after she insisted on wearing a headscarf.
The wearing of religious symbols, and especially Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, has become a hot button issue with the rise of populist sentiment across Europe, with some countries such as Austria considering a complete ban on the full-face veil in public.
The ECJ was ruling on a case dating to 2003 when Samira Achbita, a Muslim, was employed as a receptionist by G4S security services in Belgium.
At the time, the company had an “unwritten rule” that employees should not wear any political, religious or philosophical symbols at work, the ECJ said.
In 2006, Achbita told G4S she wanted to wear the Islamic headscarf at work but was told this would not be allowed.
Subsequently, the company introduced a formal ban. Achbita was dismissed and she went to court accusing the company of discrimination.