What are the effects of the recent European Court of Justice ruling regarding an employee wearing a religious symbol?
There has recently been publicity of a case where the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a company’s ban on a female employee wearing a headscarf at work was not directly discriminatory.
However we would caution against any employer of domestic or household staff using this judgement to implement a ban of the wearing of a headscarf, or indeed any religious symbol.
To assist in the interpretation of the judgement, we took the opinion of specialist employment law solicitors Hine Legal – www.hinelegal.com. This is their advice:-
- In this particular case, the company wanted to project an image of neutrality and it was its policy to do so.
- The employee was in a customer facing role.
- In this case the court held the banning of the headscarf was not DIRECTLY discriminatory as the wearing of all visible religious symbols were banned but it may well be INDIRECTLY discriminatory. Muslims are most likely to be disadvantaged, I would imagine because the headscarf is worn widely and in some cases, it is mandatory within the religion.
I would question therefore the relevance of this to a housekeeper and requiring domestic staff not to wear headscarves or crucifixes is unlikely to be justifiable. There is no corporate policy argument to advance and your clients could find themselves at the end of a claim, if not for direct discrimination then for indirect discrimination (no obvious legitimate aim) or breach of mutual trust and confidence.
In my view there appears to be no good reason to prevent a housekeeper from wearing a headscarf and it is likely to be a very divisive and risky course of action to recommend.
The message? Don’t take such reports on face value. Always seek professional relevant advice.
The Graham Agency, keeping you informed.