Employers can ban staff from wearing headscarves

14 Mar 2017

The European Courts of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that employers are entitled to ban workers from the "visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign" including headscarves. Simmons & Simmons employment partner, Andrea Finn comments:

“The ECJ ruling sits alongside a push in the UK to stop employers from being permitted to make female employees wear high heels to work (a high heel dress code being susceptible to challenge as being discriminatory on grounds of sex). It would be odd if we reached a situation where UK employers cannot tell female employees what to wear on their feet but could tell them what they can’t wear on their heads.

“Numerous EU jurisdictions have been grappling with the issue of Islamic headscarves and full-face veils. The ECJ’s judgment is interesting as it allows employers to put in place ‘blanket bans’ on all religious symbols - which include crosses and headscarves. It doesn’t allow employers to do this in response to customer prejudice and would need to be neutral.

“Unlike other EU states, the UK doesn’t have a culture of taking religion out of public life/office and we don’t think many employers would want to ban their employees from wearing headscarves.

“There is more controversy in the UK, however, about full-face veils - this decision doesn’t allow employers to distinguish in this way because they have to be neutral. Would a trip to the ECHR be fruitful for the claimant in this case?

“It is important to remember that the ban is based on internal company rules which require employees to dress ‘neutrally’. Employers should now take the time to re-communicate their dress code policies to staff to avoid any confusion.”

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