The most senior lawyer at the EU’s top court has said that companies may ban headscarfs if a general prohibition on religious symbols in the workplace is enforced.
According to an AFP report, a Belgian woman working as a receptionist for security firm G4S Secure Solutions was fired after she insisted on wearing a headscarf for religious reasons.
“A ban on wearing headscarves in companies may be admissible,” advocate general, Juliane Kokott's ruling said, she added that the company was under no oblication to find the woman a back office job.
“If the ban is based on a general company rule which prohibits political, philosophical and religious symbols from being worn visibly in the workplace, such a ban may be justified if it enables the employer to pursue the legitimate policy of ensuring religious and ideological neutrality.”
The European Court of Justice usually follows the advice of the senior lawyer, though reports say the opinion is not binding.
“While an employee cannot 'leave' his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability 'at the door' upon entering his employer's premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace,” Kokott said.
Samira Achbita had been working for the company for three years when she insisted on wearing the headscarf but was dismissed because the firm prohibits the wearing of any visible religious, political and philosophical symbols.
Achbita was backed by a Belgian racial equality organisation when she went to court over the company's decision to fire her. But the case was dismissed by two lower courts before the court of cassation referred it to the EU’s top court to seek clarification on discrimination laws.
It’s been an ongoing and heavy debate in Europe with a ban on full-face veils being introduced in France in 2010, despite claims it violate freedom of expression and religion.