Can employers ban headscarves?
The European Court of Justice has recently given judgment that a Belgian company's dress code banning employees from wearing any visible religious, political or philosophical symbols in the workplace, which prevented a Muslim employee from wearing an Islamic headscarf, did not amount to direct discrimination based on religion or belief. However, the court indicated that the ban could amount to indirect discrimination based on religion or belief if the employer's decision was not justified.
The employee intended to wear a headscarf during working hours for religious reasons, and was dismissed owing to her refusal to abide by the company's dress code by removing the headscarf.
The court's decision was that the dress code did not amount to direct discrimination because no particular religion or belief was being treated differently. The court considered that the ban was capable of constituting indirect discrimination, but if an employer had a policy of upholding political, philosophical or religious neutrality in customer-facing roles, it was justified.
Not withstanding the court's decision, if employers adopt a dress code which bans the wearing of visible religious or political symbols they should make sure that their decision can be justified and is neutral.