European Court Rules That Headscarves Can Be Banned In The Workplace

Photo: Pietro D'aprano/Getty Images.
A top European court has ruled that headscarves can, in fact, be banned in the workplace. The European Justice Court in Luxembourg, the E.U.'s highest court, based its ruling yesterday on two separate lawsuits, one woman in Belgium and another in France, were fired from their jobs for wearing hijabs, in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Despite Germany's striking down of a headscarf ban in 2015, the lines between church and state clearly continue to be blurry across Europe.
The latest ban states that the right to wear a headscarf is to be left up to "internal company rules," and employees can be encouraged to dress "neutrally." The ruling argues that a company can prohibit employees from the "wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign," technically not singling out hijabs, and therefore the ban isn't "direct discrimination." Also, the ban cannot be based on the request of a customer, meaning a workplace cannot cite customer complaints about employees wearing hijabs as a reason to ban the garment.
Despite the fact that the ban arguably paves a way for — and inadvertently promotes — prejudices and double standards in the workplace, the full document cites "neutrality" 10 times, underscoring that the ban has to apply to all employees, meaning no crucifixes, yarmulkes, or turbans, either.
The reception to the ban has been mixed. Various right-wing leaders are enthusiastic about the ruling, The Guardian reports. But plenty of faith-based groups across religious affiliations take serious issue with the ruling, as evidenced by this statement from the Conference of European Rabbis: "With the rise of racially motivated incidents and today's decision, Europe is sending a clear message; its faith communities are no longer welcome." Amnesty International's director of the Europe and Central Asia sector, John Dalhuisen, points out that, at least, the ban doesn't allow customer preferences to dictate if employees can or cannot wear hijabs (which was the case with the French suit that, in part, led to yesterday's ruling), but it's an incredibly slippery slope nonetheless. "The court did say that employers are not at liberty to pander to the prejudices of their clients," Dalhuisen told BBC. "But by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a backdoor to precisely such prejudice."
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