Banning the wearing of the Islamic veil in the workplace is not discriminatory and can on the contrary make it possible to avoid social conflicts, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) said on Thursday (July 15th). “The ban on wearing any visible expression of political, philosophical or religious convictions may be justified by the need for the employer to project an image of neutrality with regard to customers or to avoid social conflicts”, the court said in a statement.
The latter was seized by two women of Muslim faith who live in Germany, one an employee of a pharmacy, the other a childcare worker. They challenged before the European courts the ban on wearing the Islamic veil in their workplace. A complainant was transferred to another post and then allowed to return without “Visible signs, of large size, of no political, philosophical or religious belief”. The other had been temporarily suspended from his job after refusing to take off his hijab.
The CJEU ruled in a judgment that banning the wearing of a visible religious symbol was not discriminatory, as long as it applied to all religions without distinction, and could make it possible to avoid conflicts within a company. The employer must however prove, according to the Court, that it is a “Real need” and that without this ban the neutrality of the company would be called into question.
Client’s “legitimate expectations” and entrepreneurial freedom
“It is particularly important that the employer has demonstrated that in the absence of such a policy of neutrality, his freedom to conduct business would be hampered because he would suffer negative consequences due to the nature of his activities or the environment in which they are carried out ”, writes the institution.
A “Real need” can be justified by “The rights and legitimate expectations of customers or users”. In the context of education, the Court quotes “The wish of parents to see their children supervised by people who do not manifest their religion or their convictions when they are in contact with the children”.
The judges of the institution, based in Luxembourg, had already considered in 2017 that the internal regulations of companies prohibiting religious symbols could be justified, as long as the company did not act solely at the request of a client.
The European Court of Human Rights had also ruled on the issue of wearing religious symbols at school or at work. In 2013, judges claimed that a British Airways airline stewardess had been fired for wearing a cross.