Following our recent article titled " Attorney General backs ban on wearing headscarves in the workplace", the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is revisiting the issue of Islamic dress in the workplace. In this latest case, a Muslim woman who worked as a design engineer for French IT consultancy Micropole SA was sacked after refusing to take off her hijab during client meetings.
Eleanor Sharpston, the Advocate General giving her opinion on the matter, supports the claimant's position. She states that a company policy demanding that an employee removes her hijab when in contact with clients constitutes unlawful direct discrimination. While the Equal Treatment Framework Directive (2000/78/EC) allows for tight rules on appearance if it is a "genuine and determining occupational requirement", the Advocate General contends that such an exception cannot apply to an IT company in these circumstances.
The Advocate General's opinion is not binding on the ECJ, however it can be extremely influential in the ECJ's final determination of a matter. The previous case that came before the ECJ involved a company that proposed to ban all religious items, including headscarves, to enforce a neutral dress code. In this instance, Attorney General Kokott stated there is no direct discrimination where there is a general ban in the workplace from wearing religious symbols.
With the ECJ issuing final judgments on both of these cases later this year, it will interest many employers to see how the ECJ interprets the increasingly contested issue of religious dress in the workplace. Given the conflicting opinions above, clarity from the ECJ is urgently required.
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