Headscarf ban
A woman wearing an Islamic headscarf overlooks a store in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Aug. 16, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Employers can ban their staff from wearing visible religious, including Islamic headscarves, at workplace, the European Union’s top court ruled Tuesday. The verdict was given in the cases of a French woman and a Belgian woman, who were dismissed from their work for refusing to remove headscarves.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice decided that the ban on the religious symbols should be in line with internal company regulations that make all employees mandatory to “dress neutrally.”

"An internal rule of an undertaking, which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination," the court said in a statement. "However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination."

Samira Achbita, the Belgian plaintiff, had begun wearing a headscarf to work after three years of employment. She claimed she was removed from work due to her religion.

However, the court noted that the internal regulation of a company “does not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief, for the purposes of the directive.” Furthermore, the court added that "an employer's desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate" and a national court must decide that this policy of neutrality was previously implemented by the Belgian company for all employees.

This is the court’s first verdict on the issue of wearing Islamic headscarves at work, which is a controversial issue in most of the countries across Europe. Particularly in France, separation of state and religious institutions is must.

The court’s ruling also covered a French worker who was directed to remove her headscarf following a complaint from a client.