Companies should be allowed to ban Islamic headscarves from the workplace, but only if all other religious and political symbols are banned as well, an EU court adviser has said.
If visible religious or political symbols are banned as part of company dress code or uniform policy, the hijab should not be exempt, an adviser to the European Court of Justice said on Tuesday.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott said that while an employee cannot ‘leave their sex, ethnicity, age or disability at the door’, he or she may be expected to moderate exercise of religion in the workplace.
The hijab is a contentious issue in some European countries, particularly in France which attaches importance to the separation of state and religious institutions.
This is the first time Europe’s highest court is handling a case on banning the headscarf.
The case has been referred to the European Court of Justice by a Belgian court, hearing a compensation claim from a woman who was dismissed from her job for wearing an Islamic headscarf.
The woman was working as a receptionist for Belgian company G4S Secure Solutions, which has a general ban on wearing visible religious or political symbols.
The Belgian court asked the European Court of Justice whether forbidding the headscarf violated an EU law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion.
‘While an employee cannot ‘leave’ his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability ‘at the door’ upon entering his employer’s premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace,’ Juliane Kokott, the EU court’s advocate general, wrote in her opinion published on Tuesday.
The advocate general’s findings are not binding but the EU court typically follows the adviser’s recommendation.
A ruling from the European Court of Justice is expected later this year. The Belgian court will rule on the matter thereafter.
There are already some headscarf bans in schools and public institutions in France and Belgium.
However, Germany’s top court last year struck down a ban on teachers wearing headscarves in schools