The European Court of Justice stipulates that companies can prohibit Muslim employees from wearing headscarves under certain conditions.
The European Union’s Supreme Court ruled that employers can prohibit the wearing of obvious signs of religious or political belief, such as headscarves.
But the Luxembourg-based court said in its ruling on Thursday that the courts of the 27 EU member states should weigh whether the ban meets the “real needs” of employers. It said that they must also consider the rights and interests of employees, including national legislation on religious freedom.
“It is forbidden to wear any obvious form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace, possibly because employers need to show their clients a neutral image or prevent social disputes,” the court said.
“However, the reason must be in line with the real needs of the employer. When reconciling disputed rights and interests, the national court can consider the specific circumstances of its member states, especially the more favorable national regulations to protect religious freedom.”
The case was filed by two German women who were suspended after they started wearing headscarves. Many Muslim women wear headscarves as part of their religion.
Two Muslim women—a special care worker at a childcare center run by a charity association in Hamburg and a cashier at the Mueller pharmacy chain—neither of them wore a headscarf when they started work, but decided to come back from maternity leave wearing headscarves a few years later.
The court documents show that their respective employers told them this was not allowed and were suspended at different times and were told to work or change jobs without it.
The European Union Supreme Court today again supports the right of employers to dismiss Muslim women for wearing hijabs, provided that the concept of “neutrality” is reasonable. The European Court of Justice seems to have also recognized this as a form of discrimination🤷♀️ pic.twitter.com/mMwYdJoHwr
-Mei Lin (@MehreenKhn) July 15, 2021
Over the years, the headscarf issue has sparked controversy throughout Europe and highlighted sharp differences on the issue of Muslim integration.
In the 2017 ruling, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has stated that the company may ban employees from wearing headscarves and other visible religious signs under certain circumstances. At that time, this caused a huge backlash among religious groups.
More than 5 million Muslims live in Germany, making them the largest religious minority there.
The ban on women’s headscarves at work has been a hotly debated issue in Germany for many years, mainly involving aspiring teachers and trainee judges in public schools. So far, this has not been the main theme of the legislative election campaign this year.
In other parts of Europe, courts must also investigate where and how the headscarf is sometimes prohibited at work.
The French Supreme Court upheld its ruling on the dismissal of a Muslim daycare worker in 2014, on the grounds that he was wearing a headscarf in a private nursery and required employees to remain strictly neutral. France is home to the largest Muslim minority in Europe. In 2004, the wearing of Islamic headscarves in public schools was banned.
However, the Austrian Constitutional Court ruled that the Austrian law prohibiting girls under 10 from wearing headscarves in schools is discriminatory.