The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, the highest court in the European Union recently passed a ruling, allowing companies to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols including Islamic headscarves at work.
The court, however, added that if a company does not have a policy barring their staff from sporting the religious symbols then customers cannot demand workers to remove their headscarves. This ruling was issued as a joint judgment in the cases of two women from France and Belgium, who were dismissed from their workplace for refusing to remove their headscarves.
• The court ruled that an internal rule of an undertaking that prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute to direct discrimination.
• It further stated that a company's wish to project a neutral image was legitimate.
• The first case, which is of Samira Achbita, was referred to the ECJ by the Belgian courts. Achbita was fired in June 2006 for refusing to take off her scarf and her company had stated that she had broken their unwritten rule that prohibited religious symbols.
• The second case was of a design engineer- Asma Bougnaoui who was fired from an IT consultancy firm after a customer complained that his staff had been embarrassed by her headscarf while she was on their premises to give counselling.
The ruling has come as a blow to many religious groups. It also contradicts the ruling from the European court of human rights (ECHR), which allowed crosses to be worn at workplaces.