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Headscarf ban was not direct discrimination

Ms Achbita worked for G4S who said that employees were not permitted to wear any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty. She was dismissed on account of her firm intention as a Muslim woman to wear a headscarf. She then brought a claim for wrongful dismissal on the grounds of direct discrimination relating to her religion.

The European Court of Justice concluded that the headscarf ban did not constitute direct discrimination. There was no evidence that Ms Achbita was treated differently compared to any other worker. The court concluded that:

  • The fact that a female employee of Muslim faith is prohibited from wearing a headscarf at work does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting all visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudice against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. That ban may, however, constitute indirect discrimination.
  • Such discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality pursued by the employer if the ban is proportionate.

Such an outright ban was considered to be a legitimate aim, and whether the legitimate aim was proportionate and necessary was for a national court to determine.  In doing so, the following factors must be taken into account: the size and conspicuousness of the religious symbol, the nature of the employee’s activity and the context in which he/she has to perform that activity.