BRUSSELS – European Union companies can ban employees from wearing a headscarf under certain conditions, if they need it to project an image of neutrality with customers, the EU’s highest court said on Thursday.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has ruled on cases brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs for wearing a headscarf.
The issue of the hijab, the traditional scarf worn around the head and shoulders, has divided Europe for years, highlighting strong differences over the integration of Muslims.
In the cases brought to court, a childminder at a Hamburg daycare center run by a charity and a cashier at the Mueller drugstore chain did not wear a headscarf when they started their work, but decided to do so. years later after their return. parental leave.
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They were told this was not allowed and, at different times, they were suspended, ordered to come to work without it or to take other work, according to court documents.
The court had to decide whether the headscarf bans at work violated religious freedom or were permitted within the framework of entrepreneurial freedom and the desire to project an image of neutrality with customers.
His response was that such bans were possible if justified by an employer’s need to present a neutral image.
“A ban on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social conflicts”, declared the court.
This justification must correspond to a real need on the part of the employer, he said.
In the case of the care center employee, the court said the rule at issue appeared to have been applied broadly and undifferentiatedly, with the employer also demanding that an employee wearing a religious cross remove this sign.
In both cases, it will now be for the national courts to have the final say on the existence of discrimination.
The EU court had already ruled in 2017 that companies could ban staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols under certain conditions, upsetting faith groups.
The ban on headscarves for working women has been the subject of controversy in Germany for years, mainly with regard to future teachers in public schools and trainee judges.
This has not been a major theme in the campaign for this year’s parliamentary elections in Germany, of which more than 5 million Muslims make up the largest minority religious group.
Elsewhere in Europe, courts have also had to consider where and how the headscarf can sometimes be banned at work.