Top EU court allows workplaces to impose headscarf ban

The European Union’s top court announced a controversial ruling, which allows employers to prohibit the display of religious, philosophical or spiritual symbols, after an appeal by a Muslim woman wearing headscarf.

The ruling is related to a case in Belgium where a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf had applied for an internship in a company whose internal rules forbid the expression of religious, philosophical or political views through words or clothing.

The woman was told she could not be offered a traineeship as no head coverings were allowed at the company. She then filed a complaint claiming she had been discriminated against on the basis of her religion.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in its ruling that religion and belief must be regarded as a single ground of discrimination under EU law.

The court however ruled that a provision of terms of employment that “prohibits workers from manifesting, through words, through clothing, or in any other way, their religious or philosophical beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be, does not constitute … direct discrimination,” an ECJ press release read.

“Indeed, since every person may have a religion or religious, philosophical or spiritual belief, such a rule, provided that it is applied in a general and undifferentiated way, does not establish a difference in treatment.”

However, such recruitment rules can constitute indirect discrimination if the seemingly neutral terms lead to a specific religion or belief being particularly disadvantaged, the ECJ said.

Thursday’s ruling is not the first on this issue and confirms previous case law.

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