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Jury’s out

European businesses can now ban headscarves in the workplace, top court rules

By WITW Staff on March 14, 2017

The European Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled in favor of European businesses and their right to require employees refrain from wearing any visible item perceived as having religious or political associations. While in theory the court’s decision will be applied to all forms of personal expression in the workplace falling within those categories, critics of the decision claim that the ruling is simply a guise for legalized discrimination aimed particularly, if not expressly, at Muslim women.

The ECJ’s decision comes on the heels of a case brought by two Muslim women whose jobs were terminated for refusing to remove their headscarves at their employer’s request. The ladies — Asma Bougnaoui, a former design engineer working for Micropole in France and Samira Achbita, a receptionist in the Belgian branch of the security firm G4S — claimed that even though their professional conduct had been exemplary, they had suffered discrimination because of their choice to wear a hijab on the job. Referred by their national courts to the ECJ in Luxembourg, Europe’s highest court decided that “the rule thus treats all employees to the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them, generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally.”

While the distinction was made that no customer had the right to request an employee remove a headscarf or other religious paraphernalia, the company could choose to do so at its discretion.

Several institutions including the Open Society Justice Initiative and CCIF, a French organization that works to combat Islamophobia, have expressed concern that the ban has the potential to economically handicap Europeans in the workforce who would feel pressured to compromise their religious values in order to secure a job. Decisions like those of the court, instead of leveling the playing field, only feed the current tensions in society. Others, such as The Conference of European Rabbis, were worried that the ruling could be seen as part of a larger message that communities of faith in Europe can expect to be increasingly marginalized in the years to come.

Despite so much controversy, many see the decision as a victory for secular European Society.

Ready the full story at The Guardian.


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