Sunday, July 17, 2016

European Court Favors Muslim Employee's Right To Wear Hijab At Work

The Court of Justice of the European Union last week released an Advocate General's opinion on whether under European Union Directive 2000/78 a private employer may bar a Muslim employee from wearing a hijab at work when a customer objects to the head covering. The Advocate General's opinion in Bougnaoui v. Micropole SA, (CJ EU, July 13, 2016), is the first step in the Court's rendering an advisory opinion to France's Court of Cassation on the meaning of the EU employment discrimination directive.  The Advocate General's opinion provides a recommendation to a panel of the Court's judges who will then render a decision. The Advocate General concluded that barring wearing of the hijab under these circumstances amounts to both illegal direct and indirect discrimination. The Advocate General said in part:
73. When the employer concludes a contract of employment with an employee, he does not buy that person’s soul. He does, however, buy his time. For that reason, I draw a sharp distinction between the freedom to manifest one’s religion – whose scope and possible limitation in the employment context are at the heart of the proceedings before the national court – and proselytising on behalf of one’s religion. Reconciling the former freedom with the employer’s right to conduct his business will, as I shall demonstrate, require a delicate balancing act between two competing rights. The latter practice has, in my view, simply no place in the work context. It is therefore legitimate for the employer to impose and enforce rules that prohibit proselytising, both to ensure that the work time he has paid for is used for the purposes of his business and to create harmonious working conditions for his workforce....
133. ... It seems to me that in the vast majority of cases it will be possible, on the basis of a sensible discussion between the employer and the employee, to reach an accommodation that reconciles adequately the competing rights of the employee to manifest his or her religion and the employer to conduct his business. Occasionally, however, that may not be possible. In the last resort, the business interest in generating maximum profit should then in my view give way to the right of the individual employee to manifest his religious convictions. Here, I draw attention to the insidiousness of the argument, ‘but we need to do X because otherwise our customers won’t like it’. Where the customer’s attitude may itself be indicative of prejudice based on one of the ‘prohibited factors’, such as religion, it seems to me particularly dangerous to excuse the employer from compliance with an equal treatment requirement in order to pander to that prejudice. Directive 2000/78 is intended to confer protection in employment against adverse treatment (that is, discrimination) on the basis of one of the prohibited factors. It is not about losing one’s job in order to help the employer’s profit line.
Law & Religion UK has more on the decision.