EU court rules
companies can ban headscarves
Wearing of religious
symbols, especially Islamic symbols such as
headscarf, has become hot button issue with rise
of populist sentiment across Europe.
Rosary beads displayed for selling next to
mannequin wearing a headscarf in The Hague,
LUXEMBOURG - European companies can ban
employees from wearing religious or
political symbols including the Islamic
headscarf, the EU's top court ruled Tuesday
in a landmark 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
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.
Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right
European People's Party, the biggest in the
European Parliament, welcomed the ruling.
"Important ruling by the European Court of
Justice: employers have the right to ban the
Islamic veil at work. European values must
apply in public life," Weber said in a
The ECJ was ruling on a case dating to 2003
when Samira Achbita, a Muslim, was employed
as a receptionist by G4S security services
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 claiming discrimination.
- Treat all employees equally -
The ECJ said European Union law does bar
discrimination on religious grounds, but
G4S's actions were based on treating all
employees the same, meaning no one person
was singled out for application of the ban.
"The rule thus treats all employees of the
undertaking in the same way, notably by
requiring them, generally and without any
differentiation, to dress neutrally," the
"Accordingly, such an internal rule does not
introduce a difference of treatment that is
directly based on religion or belief," it
However in a related case in France, the ECJ
ruled that a customer could not demand that
a company employee not wear the Islamic
headscarf when conducting business with them
on its behalf.
Design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was employed
full-time by Micropole, a private company,
in 2008, having been told that wearing the
headscarf might cause problems with clients.
Following a customer complaint, Micropole
asked Bougnaoui not to wear the headscarf on
the grounds employees should be dressed
She was subsequently dismissed and went to
court claiming discrimination.
The ECJ said the case turned on whether
there was an internal company rule in place
applicable to all, as in the G4S instance,
or whether the client's demand meant
Bougnaoui was treated differently.
The ECJ concluded that Bougnaoui had indeed
been treated differently and so the client's
demand that she not wear a headscarf "cannot
be considered a genuine and determining
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