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8-06-2016

There has been a lot of hysteria over the Muslim/headscarf debate and allegations that employment law favours non-Christian religions despite the lack of any evidence to support this. The matter has come under consideration again in the context of European law.

C worked for G4S in Belgium. Her employer said that employees were not permitted to wear any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty. The rule had the support of a works council.

C was dismissed because she insisted on wearing a headscarf. Her claim for wrongful dismissal on the grounds of direct discrimination relating to her religion was dismissed and the matter was referred by the Belgian domestic courts to the ECJ.

It concluded that:

  1. Prohibiting the wearing of a headscarf did not constitute direct discrimination based on religion if that ban was based on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on prejudice against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. However the ban might amount to indirect discrimination.
  2. Indirect discrimination might be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality if it was proportionate.

The decision is only a preliminary one and a final decision will come later in the year but it would be unusual for the court to deviate from the preliminary ruling.

The case contrasts with that of Eweida who took her case to the European courts after British Airways banned her from wearing a crucifix at work. She won.

Nevertheless Mrs Chaplin, a nurse who wished to wear a crucifix at work, lost her case on the basis that her employer's restrictions in relation to jewellery of any type were in place to protect health and safety and so were proportionate and permissible.

See http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/EUECJ/2016/C15715.html 

This is intended for general information only and should not be considered as giving advice in relation to any individual case nor be taken as applying to any particular case. No liability is accepted for any such use of the information contained.

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