EU Court Rules Public Authorities Can Ban the Hijab in the Workplace

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The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has held that public authorities in member states can ban the hijab in the workplace. This comes after an employee at the Municipality of Ans in Belgium launched a claim against the public authority.

We explore the claim’s origin and the ruling to allow authorities to ban the hijab at work in more detail. We also discuss how this European Union ruling compares to the position held in the UK. Finally, we examine when someone could claim compensation on the grounds of religious discrimination at work.

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Public Authorities Can Ban the Hijab Rules EU Court

The dispute that led to the court’s ruling began when the Belgian Municipality informed an employee they couldn’t wear a hijab to work. Subsequently, the employee claimed the employer had infringed her religious freedom.

In response, the Municipality amended their employment terms, making it mandatory for all employees to observe strict neutrality. Essentially, they banned employees from wearing signs of religious or ideological belief. As a result, the employee brought claims against her employer, which the CJEU ruled upon.

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However, the CJEU did not rule in the employee’s favour. Instead, they held that public authorities in member states could prevent employees from wearing religious symbols in the workplace. This was provided the authorities pursued such restrictions in a consistent, systematic manner, limited to what is strictly necessary. As such, the Municipality could ban the hijab from being worn by their employees.

This ruling caused controversy in Europe, but it’s not the first controversial event concerning the matter. French schools ban the hijab from being worn and have done so since 2004. Furthermore, in 2017, the CJEU held that headscarves could be prohibited under a workplace policy that banned religious symbols. Also, in 2021, the same court ruled that women could be sacked for wearing hijabs in public-facing roles.

Does the UK Ban the Hijab in the Workplace?

The UK does not ban the hijab in the workplace. Despite the ruling of the CJEU, the same laws don’t apply in the UK. For starters, the UK courts are no longer bound by EU court decisions following Brexit. But even if they were, the CJEU ruling simply allows member states to prohibit religious symbols in work; it doesn’t obligate them to.

As such, the UK wouldn’t adopt the approach potentially taken in some EU member states. In fact, the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on grounds of their religion or belief. This includes if an employer were to ban the hijab in the workplace.

Making a Religion or Belief Discrimination Claim

Under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably because of a “protected characteristic”. This could include an individual’s age, sex, or, in this case, religion. Some examples of religious discrimination in the workplace include:

  • If an employer were to ban the hijab without justification
  • Terminating an individual’s employment contract based on their religion
  • Rejecting a religious holiday request without a valid business reason or dealing with it unfairly

Should an individual experience something similar, they could try to resolve the matter informally or through a formal grievance first. If this doesn’t work, they may be able to claim compensation if they satisfy specific eligibility criteria. However, there are circumstances where an employer could justify less favourable treatment. As such, it’s important potential claimants understand their rights under the Equality Act 2010 before proceeding.

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If you have experienced religious discrimination in the workplace and want to claim compensation, contact Redmans Solicitors today. They are employment law specialists who could consult on your eligibility to claim compensation and advise on how to proceed. What’s more, they offer numerous options to fund your case to ensure they can provide their service in a way that meets your circumstances.

To get in touch with them today:

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