The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on Tuesday that employers can ban their workers from wearing any religious symbol, including headscarves worn by some Muslim women.
In a ruling on two separate appeals made by Belgium and France over the headscarf ban, the court said companies could bar staff from "visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign".
In both cases, the appeal courts of Belgium and France had urged the EU court to give a joint judgement on the issue.
The EU court further said the decision to ban such symbols at workplaces was not discriminatory.
“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination," it said.
“The prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf, which arises from an internal rule of a private undertaking prohibiting the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign in the workplace, does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief within the meaning of the directive," the court said in its ruling.
The ruling was encouraged by two separate cases of Muslim women who were fired for wearing a headscarf at their workplaces based in Belgium and France.
Samira Achbita, a Muslim receptionist at G4S company in Belgium, filed a legal complaint at a Belgian court in 2006 after she was fired from the company for wearing a headscarf at her workplace.
Achbita was fired under an internal amendment to G4S workplace regulations, which provides that “employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs”.
The Belgian Court of Cessation had urged the Court of Justice of the European Union to interfere in the issue.
In the second case, a French company had dismissed a Muslim woman worker in 2008 for wearing a headscarf.
Asma Bougnaoui, a Micropole employee, had brought the matter to the French Court of Cassation, which then asked the EU justice court “whether the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have that employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf may be considered a ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’ within the meaning of the directive.”
In its ruling, the European court answered that “the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of the directive.”