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Headscarf ban justified as genuine occupational requirement

The Advocate General has given the opinion that a private company’s ban on employees wearing religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty, which led to the dismissal of the claimant for wearing an Islamic headscarf, did not amount to direct discrimination. The Advocate General went on to opine that, even if direct discrimination were established, the ban could be justified under the ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’ exemption in so far as it was proportionate to require compliance with a dress code that gave effect to the employer’s strict policy of neutrality.

G4S provides security and guarding services and reception services to various customers from the public and private sectors. Its employee code of conduct states that employees ‘are not permitted to wear any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty’. A worked for G4S in Belgium as a receptionist until she was dismissed on 12 June 2006 on account of her firm intention, as a Muslim woman, to wear the Islamic headscarf.

Advocate General gave the opinion that the ban on wearing religious symbols could not be classified as direct discrimination. Under Article 2(2) of the Framework Directive, direct discrimination occurs where one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation on account of religion. Given that the ban applied to all religious symbols, without distinction, and extended to political and philosophical symbols, the only difference of treatment to which it gave rise was between employees who wished to give active expression to a particular belief and those who did not. This could not be said to constitute less favourable treatment that was directly and specifically linked to religion.

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