An employer may be justified in prohibiting its employees from wearing a headscarf or any other visible sign of political, philosophical, or religious affiliation. This is what the European Court of Justice says in a new ruling. The court does not set certain conditions for such a ban.
The issue of hijab constantly raises people’s minds. Just think of the uproar surrounding (former) government commissioner Ihssan Hawash, or the recent condemnation of STIB of discrimination, which has sparked intense debate within the Brussels government. The European Court of Justice had now to consider this issue.
The case revolves around two German women who were asked to remove their headscarves at work. After they refused, one of the women was temporarily suspended twice, and the other was moved to a less conspicuous position. Both women went to court because of their treatment in Germany. In both cases, the judges referred the matter to the European Court.
It has now ruled that a ban on wearing “any visible form of expression” of political, ideological or religious beliefs can be justified if an employer finds it necessary to appear neutral to its clients and/or to prevent social conflicts.
But the court does not give employers carte blanche. Anyone wishing to impose such a ban on his working floor must be able to demonstrate that in the other case, “due to the nature or context of his activities,” he would suffer negative consequences. Schools that wish to impose hijab or other bans on their employees must be able to demonstrate that there are parents who do not want their children to be surrounded by adults who want to express their religion or belief.
At the same time, in such a drastic measure, all interests must be taken into account and restrictions on rights and freedoms must be limited to “extremely necessary”. The court also notes that European law allows national courts to take into account the specific context in their country. So there is a margin of appreciation.
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