European Union workplace headscarf ban is legal, says ECJ

European Union workplace headscarf ban is legal, says ECJ

The Court of Justice found that the G4S internal rule referred to the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs - and therefore covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction.

Workers can be banned from the "visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign" including Islamic headscarves, Europe's top court has ruled.

The decision was the first to be made over the issue of women wearing headscarves at work.

"Accordingly, the general rule is that an employee can not be dismissed or otherwise discriminated against in New Zealand as a result of wearing religious clothing in the workplace, such as a headscarf".

The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday on a case concerning two Muslim women who were fired for refusing to remove their headscarves. In that case, the court ruled that a customer's complaint alone does not meet the requirement for a company to ban religious symbols.

The Church of England has condemned a "troubling" European Court of Justice ruling which allows employers to ban their workers from wearing crucifixes in the workplace.

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But, the ruling said, such a move would have to be based on a consistent company policy, and could not be done at the behest of a customer. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public.

Samira Achbita, a Muslim receptionist at G4S company in Belgium, filed a legal complaint at a Belgian court in 2006 after she was sacked from the company for wearing a headscarf at her workplace. The other case involved design engineer Asma Bougnaoui, who was sacked from her IT job when a customer said his staff was "embarrassed" by her headscarf, the Guardian reported.

"Nobody should be forced to choose between their religion and their profession", said Adina Portaru, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International in Brussels.

The ECJ did not give a ruling and instead asked the French Court of Cassation to check the conditions for discrimination set out in the case of Achbita vs G4S.

She sued for wrongful termination but the court concluded such a ban would be "appropriate for the objective of ensuring that a policy of neutrality is properly applied, provided that that policy is genuinely pursued in a consistent and systematic manner".

The ruling in the two cases comes as Europe has been shaken by the growth of conservatism and strong debate over Muslim immigration, leading to the rise of political candidates such as Geert Wilders in Netherlands or Marine le Pen in France with presidential elections nearing.

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