Wednesday, June 01, 2016

EU Court Adviser Says Hijab Ban By Private Business Is Permissible

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union has recommended to the Court that it interpret the EU's employment equality directive (Directive 2000/78/EC) as permitting businesses to ban Muslim employees from wearing a headscarf as part of an employer's broader policy seeking to achieve religious and ideological neutrality.  The case arose from a request from the Belgian Court of Cassation for clarification of the Directive's provisions. The EU Advocate's full opinion in Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutions NV (May 31, 2016) observes:
Ultimately, the legal issues surrounding the Islamic headscarf are symbolic of the more fundamental question of how much difference and diversity an open and pluralistic European society must tolerate within its borders and, conversely, how much assimilation it is permitted to require from certain minorities.
The opinion concludes in part:
The fact that a female employee of Muslim faith is prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf at work does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion ... if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudice against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. That ban may, however, constitute indirect discrimination based on religion....
Such discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality pursued by the employer in the company concerned, in so far as the principle of proportionality is observed in that regard. In that connection, the following factors in particular must be taken into account: – the size and conspicuousness of the religious symbol, – the nature of the employee’s activity, – the context in which she has to perform that activity, and – the national identity of the Member State concerned.
The Court of Justice issued a press release on the Advocate's opinion, and Reuters reports further on it.