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European Court of Justice Upholds Employers’ Rights to Enforce Religion Neutral Internal Rules

On March 14, 2017, the European Court of Justice issued decisions in two cases addressing the delicate legal and political issue of wearing signs of religious belief at work.

Most media outlets and commentators who assessed the decisions focused on the court’s acknowledgment that employers may, under certain circumstances, prohibit employees from wearing Islamic headscarves. Such bans in companies’ internal regulations were deemed not to constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief. 

From a legal point of view, however, it must be noted that the recent decisions were very balanced. Based on the decisions, employers may want to do the following:

  • implement internal dress neutrality rules (in accordance with local legal requirements applicable to workplace regulations);

  • provide justification that the policy decision is actuated by a legitimate aim, which should extend neutrality to all signs of political, philosophical, or religious beliefs; and

  • ensure that the means of achieving that aim are appropriate, necessary (especially for workers who interact with customers), and implemented in a consistent and systematic manner. 

If no such justified internal workplace regulations exist (as was the case in one of the two matters before the Court of Justice), the court stated that the willingness of an employer to take into account the wishes of a customer to no longer have services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of the directive.

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About this Author

Karine Adouze, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm, Employment Law Attorney
Managing Partner

Karine Audouze is the Managing Partner of the Ogletree Deakins Paris office.  Karine advises clients on hiring / terminating senior executives, redundancies, international employee transfers and employment issues as part of sale and merger deals.  Karine acts mostly for international groups with a presence in France with a particular focus on the TMT sector. She also handles individual and collective employment litigation.

Karine is Secretary of the Discrimination and Equality Law Committee of the IBA (International Bar Association) and presents...