Can employers prohibit headscarves in the workplace?

Yes, says the European Court of Justice.

Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), employers are allowed to prohibit their employees wearing a headscarf or other religious symbol in the workplace. The ECJ ruling brings to a close lawsuits filed by two Muslim women against their employers, who prohibited them from wearing their headscarves at work. The ruling is ‘Quite remarkable and far-reaching’, says Jeroen Temperman, Associate Professor of Public International Law at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Neutrality in Business

The court ruled that, if a company wants to maintain a certain neutrality towards its customers, and clearly states the prohibition of religious symbols in its rules, it’s not discrimination. Temperman says it's quite remarkable that the court applies the neutrality ideal to companies – not just a separation of church and state, but also of church and business.

‘That the state strives for a neutral and secular reputation for public functions like judges is justifiable. But that the court stretches this principle to the private sector seems undesirable to me. We live in a pluralistic society in which it makes sense that a company would reflect society.’

What About the Netherlands?

The ruling could have consequences in the Netherlands too, Temperman believes. Employers could interpret it as a green light to refuse to let employees wear headscarves, under the guise of neutrality. But he doesn’t understand why a supermarket or a butchers would have to strive for neutrality. ‘That employees follow certain religious guidelines doesn’t mean that the whole company is religious. Refusing people with a headscarf could even be seen as an anti-religious statement, rather than neutral.’

Source: de Volkskrant


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