In the ECJ case of Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions announced today it has been held that the dismissal of an employee for insisting on wearing a headscarf because of her Muslim faith was not unfair and to have a polciy which restricted her from wearing such a religious headscarf was not direct discrimination and whilst could amount to indirect discrimination would be deemed justifiable in this case.
G4S in Belgium had a policy that no employees should be allowed to wear any religious symbolism. As the policy affected all religions equally it did not treat one religion less favorably than any other. It was therefore held that this could not amount to direct religions discrimination as it applied across all faiths and not just the Muslim faith.
The Court proceeded to consider whether it could amount to indirect discrimination and held that the prohibition on wearing religious symbolism at work introduced a difference in treatment which was indirectly based on religion, as Muslims are placed at a particular disadvantage. However it then determined that an employer's desire to project an image of neutrality was a legitimate aim provided it applied only to customer-facing employees. This legitimate aim was met by proportionate means and and therefore indirect discrimination which could be objectively justified and therefore not unlawful.
To include the reference to it applying to only employees who were customer facing did however introduce the question as to whether an employer should seek to redeploy such employees to non customer facing roles.
This case has hit the press this morning and has wide ranging implications as it could be argued it now provides employers the ability to ban the wearing of any religious garments or symbols at work including burka's, turbans, crucifixes, headscarves providing, of course, that it applies equally and only to those who may have contact with people outside of the organization during their working day.
Expect to see a lot more in the newspapers about this case in the days following this announcement and even for months to come if employers seek to implement any such policies of their own.
The ECJ ruled on the case of Samira Achbita, fired in June 2006 when, after three years of employment, she began wearing a headscarf to work. She claimed she was being directly discriminated against on the grounds of her religion. When Ms Achbita was hired an "unwritten rule" had been in operation banning overt religious symbols, and the company subsequently went on to include this explicitly in its workplace regulations, the court explained in a press release about the ruling. That covered "any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction", and was therefore not discriminatory, it said. It said "an employer's desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate" - but national courts had to make sure this policy of neutrality had been applied equally to all employees. occupational requirement," it said.