European Court Rules Workplace Ban on Political, Philosophical or Religious Clothing Is Not Discriminatory

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religious expression in the workplace

The European Court of Justice today determined that a rule put it in place by an employer prohibiting the wearing of any political, philosophical or religious clothing by its employees is not discriminatory.

In deciding two cases, the ECJ stated that an employer’s blanket policy that no visible signs of an employees religious, political or philosophical belief could be shown was not discriminatory so long as it was applied evenly and fairly to all employees (i.e. an employer not allowing any religious clothing or iconography to be worn, no matter which religion or belief they are associated with).

The Court added that it was not inconceivable that, depending on the specific facts, such a blanket policy could be deemed indirectly discrminatory if it put one particular religion or belief at a specific disadvantage, and was not justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim of the employer. A legitimate aim here was to project an image of neutrality from all customer-facing employees in respect of all religions. It would not have been proprtionate had it applied to non-customer-facing employees.

The Court went onto say that in the absence of such a blanket rule, an employer could not consider that the wishes of a customer would provide an occupational requirement to discriminate in individual circumstances. In this particular case, an employer demanded an employee remove her Islamic headscarf due to a customer’s preference for ‘neutrality’. The Court stated that this customer demand was not sufficient to rule out a specific act of discrimination by the employer, and such a demand was therefore directly discriminatory.

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Case references

Achbita v G4S

Bougnaoui v Micropole