The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the right to wear the Islamic headscarf in the workplace, with a ruling that recognized the right to dismiss or suspend an employee wearing a hijab. However, employers should enforce this right, the Court specified only in the presence of certain conditions. The verdict that legitimized the prohibition of the Islamic headscarf in the workplace was issued in recent days by the EU supreme court following an appeal presented by two Muslim citizens residing in Germany.
In their petition, the applicants claimed that they had suffered discrimination in the workplace precisely because of their Islamic faith. The first of the two promoters of the case were a specialist educator at the German child welfare agency Wabe eV. At the same time, the other was a sales consultant and cashier of the company Mh Muller Handels GmbH. Both had denounced to the EU judges they had been subjected to disciplinary measures, pressure to change clothes, and suspension from work because of their choice to wear hijab on duty. The two consequently complained of a clear violation of religious freedom protected by European law.
However, the two Muslim women’s appeal did not have a favourable outcome. Therefore, the Court of Justice urged to intervene on the matter at the instigation of the German courts seized by the citizens in question and recognized employers the right to prohibit their employees from using clothing or jewellery that refer to messages of a religious or political nature.
However, these limits to the freedom of employees can be imposed, highlighted the sentence issued by the EU court, only in the presence of specific circumstances, including the need felt by employers, to offer the public a “neutral” image of the respective companies. The prohibition of wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical, or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the need of the employer to present a neutral image towards customers or prevent social conflicts. However, the simple will of the company to present itself as “neutral” is not sufficient. Therefore, the EU Court clarified to objectively justify a difference in treatment indirectly based on religion or personal beliefs, given that can recognize the objective nature of such justification only in the face of a “real” need of the employer, capable of exceptionally prevailing over the religious rights of employees. Thus, the same verdict has also been established. The courts of the 27 member states will assess, case by case, whether the prohibition of hijabs in the workplace is dictated by “real needs” felt by company owners or personnel managers.
The European Court had already intervened in 2017 on the Islamic veil worn during service hours, even then recognizing the principle that companies can, under certain conditions, prohibit their staff from wearing hijab or other conspicuous religious symbols.