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Religious dress in the workplace - the controversy continues

With the right to wear religious dress having dominated the news lately, it is an issue which is also occupying employers. Increasingly, employers are facing dilemmas over religious dress when enforcing dress codes, and they are having to tread carefully.

It’s even thrown employment lawyers into some conflict...

Two recent cases have come before the European Court of Justice in which employees who wore religious dress to work argued that they had been directly discriminated against on the grounds of their religion.  The Court is still deliberating both cases, but despite the cases being relatively similar, two separate attorney generals have given very different opinions.

In a case called Samira Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions NV, Ms Achbita was a Muslim employee who began wearing a headscarf to work. The company had a rule banning the wearing of anything that was a visible sign of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.  It was a ‘neutrality ban’.  Ms Achbita insisted on wearing her headscarf and was dismissed.  The Advocate General in this case said that the ban was not based on stereotypes or prejudices against a particular religion or belief. It was a blanket ban that applied equally to all, and so there was no direct discrimination.

Meanwhile, in an employment case last month, Bougnaoui v Micropole SA, a Muslim woman refused to remove her headscarf following a customer complaint about her wearing it.  She was dismissed and she lost her claim for religious discrimination.  She too has now appealed to the European Court of Justice.

The Advocate General in Ms Bougnaoui’s case has given an opinion that there was direct discrimination. She was dismissed because she had manifested her belief by refusing to remove her headscarf.  A colleague who had not chosen to manifest their religion in this way would not have been dismissed. It was less favourable treatment on the grounds of religion. 

The decisions in both these cases are expected from the European Court of Justice at the end of this year. If it is decided that requiring the removal of religious dress in these circumstances is direct discrimination, employers will need to revisit their policies, especially any uniform or dress codes, to ensure that they are not discriminating against any employees.

For advice on employment law or any HR issue, contact Longmores’ employment team on 01992 300333 or advice@longmores-solicitors.co.uk.

 

 

Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances. 

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