Juliane Kokott, the German Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘CJEU’) has said that employers in the EU may impose dress codes that ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves in the workplace. She said that a ban may be admissible if it is based on a general prohibition on all religious symbols being visibly worn at work to pursue “the legitimate policy of ensuring religious and ideological neutrality.”
The case concerned a compensation claim from a Belgian receptionist who was dismissed for wearing a religious headscarf where her employer had banned visible religious or political symbols. The Belgian court sought clarification on whether forbidding the headscarf violated EU anti-discrimination law.
The Advocate General suggested that her employer did not breach EU anti-discrimination laws since there is nothing to indicate that the individual was 'treated less favourably.' She added that “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.”
However this initial view is not binding; final guidance is expected to be issued from the European Court of Justice later this year before the Belgian court rule on the matter.
Although there have been similar cases involving employees wearing religious symbols (such as Eweida v British Airways in the UK), this is the first time Europe's highest court is handling a case on banning the headscarf. Given the increasingly contentious nature of such matters across Europe, this will certainly be one to watch.