EU's top judge backs workplace ban on headscarves

The advocate general said headscarves could be banned by employers as long as other religious and political symbols were forbidden in the workplace

Alexandra Sims
Tuesday 31 May 2016 16:28

Companies may ban Muslim employees from wearing headscarves as long as they also forbid other religious and political symbols in the workplace, an adviser to the European Court of Justice has said.

The case concerns a compensation claim from a woman working as a receptionist for the Belgian company G4S Secure Solutions, who was dismissed from her job for wearing a headscarf for religious reasons.

The company already placed a general ban on wearing visible religious or political symbols.

The European Court of Justice was asked whether forbidding the headscarf violated an EU law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion.

"While an employee cannot 'leave' his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability 'at the door' upon entering his employer's premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace," Juliane Kokott, the EU court's advocate general, wrote in her opinion published on Tuesday.

The advocate general's findings are only an initial view and not binding, but the EU court typically follows the adviser's recommendation.

A ruling from the European Court of Justice is expected later this year. Belgian’s court of cassation, who referred the case to the EU’s top court, will rule on the matter thereafter.

The woman had reportedly worked for three years at G4S Belgium when she insisted on being allowed to wear the headscarf. She took legal action backed by a Belgian racial equality organisation but the case was dismissed by two lower courts, AFP reports.

Wearing headscarves and full-face veils is an increasingly contentious issue in some European countries, particularly in France which attaches importance to the separation of state and religious institutions.

France brought in a ban on full-face veils in 2010 and there are already some headscarf bans in schools and public institutions in Belgium. Last year, however, Germany's top court quashed a ban on teachers wearing headscarves in schools.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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