The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Thursday ruled that workplace bans affecting religious wear do not amount to discrimination under certain circumstances. A Muslim woman, referred to as L.F., brought a discrimination claim against a company called SCRL based on the Belgian General Anti-Discrimination Law. SCRL refused to consider L.F.’s internship application because she declined to remove her headscarf, and SCRL does not allow any headcoverings, religious or not. SCRL says L.F. did not comply with the policy of neutrality included in its terms of employment. The claimant argues that the policy is an infringement of her rights.
The CJEU evaluated whether neutrality policies discriminate against workers who exercise their freedom of religion by wearing a visible sign, like a headscarf, when other workers can practice religious freedom without wearing a visible sign. The court ultimately found for SCRL based on an “internal rule” of neutrality within the company. The court explained, “[a] prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace is justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image.”
Under the ruling, a policy that affects certain groups more than others “would not constitute indirect discrimination if it were objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim were appropriate and necessary.” However, the CJEU clarified that employers must objectively justify such policies and demonstrate a “genuine need on the part of that employer” for a policy of neutrality.
The CJEU also considered whether Article 1 of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of November 2000, which establishes a framework for equal treatment in employment, includes “religion and belief” as the same protected criterion or as two separate categories. The court ruled that “religion and belief” is a single ground of discrimination.