Dress Codes And Religious Symbols At Work In The EU

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently issued long-awaited decisions on two cases - one from France (Bougnaoui and another v Micropole SA (Case C-188/15)) and one from Belgium (Achbita and another v G4S Secure Solutions NV (Case C-157/15)) - addressing whether an employer can lawfully prohibit women from wearing a hijab at work.

These cases were the first to present claims of religious discrimination under the Equal Treatment Framework Directive to the ECJ. Accordingly, EU employers were eager to learn how the ECJ would handle these issues - not only of law, but also of social policy and politics - in our rapidly changing world.

Interestingly, the ECJ concluded that a ban on Islamic headscarves at work can be lawful but stopped short of saying that a blanket ban is lawful. According to the ECJ, an employer could ban employees from wearing a hijab at work only if the employer could prove that:

such a measure is appropriate and necessary in the particular circumstances; it has a rule prohibiting the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious belief, which covers all such manifestations of belief without distinction (i.e., it does not single out the hijab or any particular religion); and it not only has the rule, but it genuinely pursues it in a consistent and systematic manner and only cover workers who interact with customers. These decisions form part of a developing line of cases, in UK and other EU member states, which look at the legality of banning wearing...

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