Headscarf ban at work not direct discrimination – European Court of Justice
In Achbita and anor v G4S Secure Solutions NV, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has held that G4S’ rule prohibiting the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious belief, which covers all such manifestations of belief without distinction, is not directly discriminatory. G4S’ policy treated all employees in the same way and there was no evidence that the rule was applied differently to Ms Achbita (a Muslim employee who wished to wear a headscarf) as compared to other G4S employees. Accordingly, the rule did not introduce a difference of treatment directly based on religion or belief.
The ECJ held that such a rule could give rise to indirect discrimination. However, such indirect discrimination may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the employer’s desire to maintain a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality in its relations with customers, provided it applied only to customer-facing employees.
The ECJ’s decision has immediate effect, although at present only a press release has been issued by the Court, rather than the full judgment.
The decision confirms that a rule prohibiting the wearing of political or religious symbols is not directly discriminatory, provided it applies equally to all employees. Nor will it be indirectly discriminatory if it can be justified by a legitimate aim of the employer and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.
Employers should review their dress code policies to ensure any rules on religious dress/accessories treat all employees in the same way, regardless of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs. Thought should also be given as to the purpose of any such rule, and whether it could be justified as an appropriate and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim of the organisation.
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