Religious symbols can be banned at work, European court rules

The case was taken by a Muslim receptionist

Religious symbols can be banned at work, European court rules

A woman holds her crucifix necklace | Image: Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images

Employers will be able to ban staff from wearing religious symbols at work, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

It found that there is "no direct discrimination" if an internal company rule prohibits the wearing of religious symbols.

The case was taken by Samira Achbita, a Muslim receptionist employed by security firm G4S.

Back in 2003 she claimed there was an unwritten company rule that prohibited employees from wearing visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace.

In April 2006, Ms Achbita informed her employer she intended to wear an Islamic headscarf during working hours. Management told her that would not be tolerated as it was contrary to the company's position of neutrality adopted in its contacts with customers.

While in May 2006, the company approved a change to its workplace regulations prohibiting any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs.

While in June that year, Ms Achbita was dismissed because of her insistence on wearing the Islamic headscarf at work.

She challenged that dismissal in the Belgian courts.

But the ECJ has found that the G4S internal rule covers any beliefs without distinction.

"The rule thus treats all employees of the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them, generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally", the court says in its judgement.

"Accordingly, such an internal rule does not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief, for the purposes of the directive."

The court goes on: "In addition, the ban on the visible wearing of signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs is appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that a policy of neutrality is properly applied, provided that that policy is genuinely pursued in a consistent and systematic manner."