Workplace ban on religious headscarves legal — European Union court

A top EU court has ruled employers can ban workers from wearing an Islamic headscarf

In the ruling, the ECJ explicitly states: "prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf... does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief within the meaning of the directive".

The decision came as the court gave a joined judgment in the cases of two women - one in France and the other in Belgium - who were fired for refusing to remove headscarves.

The private businesses can ban religious, political, and philosophical symbols as long as the ban applies "to all religious and political beliefs".

"But in places where national law is weak, this ruling will exclude many Muslim women from the workplace", said Maryam Hmadoun, policy officer at the organisation.

Wearing an Islamic headscarf, as well as all other religious symbols, is already prohibited in France in public service jobs, even when employees are not in direct contact with the public.

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Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People's Party, the biggest in the European Parliament, welcomed the ECJ's ruling as a victory for European values.

"Accordingly, the general rule is that an employee can not be dismissed or otherwise discriminated against in New Zealand as a result of wearing religious clothing in the workplace, such as a headscarf".

Al Jazeera's Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said Tuesday's ruling is complex. According to the ECJ, upholding an image of neutrality may qualify as such.

He said the vague ruling could end up employers deciding everything that an employer wears.

The case was then referred to the European Court of Justice for clarification on what is banned by EU anti-discrimination laws.

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In May 2016, a top European Union court adviser said that employers have the right to ban headscarves as long as it is a ban that is imposed on all religious symbols.

Samira Achbita, a Muslim woman, began working for Belgian security firm G4S in 2003.

Subsequently, the company introduced a formal ban.

"For example, it's fine for employers to have a dress code but it needs to be applied with some sensitivity and flexibility to take account of religious beliefs".

Article 9 of the 1950 convention says everyone has the right to "manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance". The other case involved design engineer Asma Bougnaoui, who was sacked from her IT job when a customer said his staff was "embarrassed" by her headscarf, the Guardian reported. They found in particular that the case of the French software engineer, fired after a customer complaint, may well have been discriminatory.

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