Is it discrimination to ban the wearing of a headscarf at work?


The European Court of Justice has held that operating a policy of “neutrality”, banning the wearing of all political, religious or similar signs, did not amount to direct discrimination. It prohibited all religious signs, so it was not treating one religion less favourably than another. A Muslim employee announced she wanted to start wearing a headscarf; she was told she could not, and was dismissed. However, the rule did introduce a difference in treatment which was indirectly based on religion, as Muslims were placed at a particular disadvantage. It held that the employer's desire to project an image of neutrality was a legitimate aim provided it applied only to customer-facing employees. The court left open the question of whether it would have been possible to redeploy the employee into a non- customer facing role (rather than dismiss her).


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