Kolkata, India: An EU court ruled Thursday that employers can in theory prohibit employees from wearing headscarves in the workplace after two Muslim women working in Germany were banned from working for wearing hijab.
The European Court of Justice said in a statement that a prohibition on religious symbols like headscarves “may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.”
“However, that justification must correspond to a genuine need on the part of the employer and, in reconciling the rights and interests at issue, the national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State and, in particular, more favorable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion,” the court ruled.
The company must also establish that its policy does not discriminate against other views and religions, according to the court.
After being barred from wearing headscarves at work, the two women, a drugstore cashier, and a special needs caretaker took their cases to German courts.
The cases were then referred to the ECJ for an interpretation of EU law by German courts.
The chemist’s employee had been there since 2002 and had not worn a headscarf at first, but after returning from parental leave in 2014, she decided to start wearing one.
The chemist, on the other hand, told her to come to work “without any obvious, large-scale manifestations of any political, philosophical, or religious ideas,” according to the ECJ.
The second woman worked as a caregiver for a non-profit organization in 2016 and originally wore a headscarf to work.
She, too, took parental leave, during which time the organization developed a policy barring employees with customer interaction from displaying visible indications of political, ideological, or religious commitment in the workplace.
She refused to remove her headscarf after returning from parental leave, prompting repeated warnings and eventually her dismissal.
The ECJ stated that national courts must consider whether corporate policies are compatible with national legislation on religious freedom and the requirement for a “policy of neutrality” in each situation.
There must be “a genuine need on the part of the employer” for such a policy, it said, and it must also not go against “national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion”.
The wearing of the traditional headscarf by Muslim women has stirred debate across Europe over the years, highlighting deep disparities regarding the integration of Muslims.
With AFP inputs.