The European Court of Justice ruled recently that employers in countries governed by the EU can ban employees for wearing visible symbols of religious affiliation, such as Muslim headscarves or Christian crosses. This decision was reached after two Muslim women, fired from jobs in Belgium and France for wearing headscarves, took their cases to court. The court ruled that it was up to the employers to decide whether or not they would ban visible symbols indicating religious or political beliefs.
The two cases concerned Samira Achbita and Asma Bougnaoui. The former was a receptionist for Belgian security services firm G4S. There was an “unwritten rule” in the workplace stating that employees could not wear visible religious symbols, but when Achbita informed the firm in 2016 that she intended to wear her headscarf, the ban was made official, leading to Achbita’s firing and subsequent court case. The latter, Asma Bougnaoui, was an engineer at Micropole, a French consulting, engineering, and training firm, but was fired when a customer complained about her headscarf. The firm asked her not to wear it, and when she refused, she was fired. The ECJ did decide that workplaces could not demand that customers not wear religious symbols based solely on customer wishes if there was no policy in place banning them.
The court ruling has sparked much controversy throughout the EU, with many claiming that it supports prejudice and discrimination.