LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Bans on head coverings are allowed in European Union workplaces as long as they apply to all employees, the bloc's top court ruled Thursday.
The European Court of Justice sided with Belgian housing organization SCRL, which refused to move forward with a job applicant after she indicated she would refuse to remove her headscarf to comply with the company’s head covering ban.
L.F., as the woman is identified in court documents, applied for a six-week traineeship with SCRL in 2018. Her interview went well, according to company records, but when asked if she would remove her headscarf while working, she said no. L.F. later offered to wear another head covering but was informed company policy forbade all coverings, "be it a cap, a hat or a headscarf," according to Thursday's ruling.
On the advice of a Belgian discrimination watchdog, the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities, L.F. filed a complaint against SCRL before the Brussels Labour Court, which referred the matter to the European Court of Justice. SCRL denied the policy was discriminatory, arguing the ban was not based on any particular religion and it applies to all employees equally.
The Luxembourg-based EU court was asked if a rule effectively preventing someone from expressing their religious belief was, in fact, religious discrimination.
Relying on two previous headscarf-related rulings, the five-judge panel held that employment policies that ban head coverings do not violate EU employment law so long as they are applied in “a general and undifferentiated way.”
In 2017, the same court ruled that a workplace ban on wearing political or religious symbols was not discrimination in a case involving another Belgian company. A Muslim woman had been working for the security company G4S for three years before she decided to start wearing a headscarf. In response, the company formalized a policy banning political or religious symbols and she unsuccessfully complained of discrimination.
Last year, the court continued to side against employees wearing headscarves in a pair of cases involving two German companies. Both adopted neutrality policies banning political or religious symbols after employees were already wearing head coverings. The court concluded those policies were not discriminatory.
The Court of Justice did not determine if there had been discrimination in L.F.'s case. That decision rests with the Belgian court, where the case now returns for a final ruling.
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