The European Union’s top legal adviser says employers can have a ban on wearing religious symbols and clothing in the workplace as long as it applies to all faiths and views equally.
Juliane Kokott, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, said such a ban “may be justified if it enables the employer to pursue the legitimate policy of ensuring religious and ideological neutrality”.
The issue arose in the case of Samira Achbita, a Muslim who worked as a receptionist for the Belgian company G4S Secure Solutions.
After having worked for the company for three years she insisted that she should be allowed to wear an Islamic headscarf. She was dismissed because G4S prohibits the wearing of any visible religious, political and philosophical symbols.
Her claim for damages was rejected by the Belgian Courts and will now go before the European Court of Justice.
Ms Kokott, who advises the court and is called upon to express a preliminary opinion, said the company was entitled to have a “policy of strict religious and ideological neutrality”.
She said: “There is nothing in the present case to indicate that an individual was treated less favourably. There is no direct discrimination on the ground of religion where an employee of Muslim faith is banned from wearing an Islamic headscarf in the workplace, provided that that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudices against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. If that is the case, there is no less favourable treatment based on religion.”
The European Court is not bound by the opinion of its advocate general but usually follows the advice given.
For more information about this article or any aspect of our employment services, please call Jeremy Garson on 020 8907 2000 or click here to email him and he will be delighted to help you (there is no charge for an initial telephone discussion).