Two different ECJ Judgments address the issue of discrimination surrounding religious headscarves.
Firstly, a Belgian Company that had a Dress Code policy banning any employees from wearing any visible religious, political or philosophical symbols in the workplace had their policy challenged as it prevented a Muslim employee from wearing a headscarf and she claimed direct race discrimination.
The ECJ found that the ban was not direct discrimination itself because it applied to all employees equally and the aim of upholding political and religious neutrality in customer facing roles was a legitimate aim. However, while indirect discrimination was not claimed, the ECJ indicated that the Dress Code could amount to indirect discrimination.
In the second case, the ECJ found that the dismissal of an employee who refused to remove her headscarf at the request of a customer was direct discrimination as a subjective preference of the customer could not amount to a “genuine occupational requirement”. The motive behind the ban was how the ECJ distinguished this decision from the above as this concerned personal preferences of a customer whereas the other reflected a policy of neutrality.
These cases highlight the need to be very cautious in implementing even a simple policy and we would recommend any existing policies are reviewed.