In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled on a long running employment dispute over headscarves in the workplace.
The issue of women wearing Islamic head coverings at work was heard by the highest court in Europe, following the case of a receptionist who was dismissed by security firm, G4S in Belgium.
The ECJ ruled that G4S was not breaking the law by dismissing the employee who had begun wearing an Islamic headscarf to work, as this was in breach of the company’s rules on a ‘neutral appearance’ in a public-facing role.
However in a similar case involving a French employee who was sacked for refusing to take off her headscarf after a client objected to her wearing it, the ECJ ruled that she had suffered discrimination, stating that ‘the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination’.
Lara Murray, an Associate and Employment Law expert with Palmers, said: “The ECJ’s ruling means that employers are not guilty of committing direct discrimination, providing they require all employees to ‘dress neutrally’ by not wearing any political, philosophical or religious sign, including headscarves.
“However, a key aspect of this ruling is that a ban cannot be brought in as a response to a customer not wishing to engage with an employee wearing a headscarf or other item of religious dress.
“The ruling underlines the importance of having in place clear, legally compliant workplace rules so that all employees are aware of the regulations relating to appropriate dress standards.
“In order to ensure that your workplace regulations are not breaching employment laws, it is best to seek legal advice first to avoid putting your company at risk of a potential employment tribunal claim.”
For advice and support on all aspects of employment law and help with drafting compliant employee contracts and workplace handbooks, please contact us.