An expert for the European Union's top court says employers in the bloc may legitimately prohibit Muslim staff from wearing head scarves on the job, provided the ban is based on a “policy of religious and ideological neutrality” in a company.
Juliane Kokott, an advocate general to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), issued the opinion on May 31 after a Belgian court sought clarification on what is banned by EU antidiscrimination laws.
Kokott said a ban on head scarves is acceptable if it is based on “a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical, and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudices against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general.”
In the Belgian case, a company had fired a receptionist after she insisted she should be allowed to work wearing a head scarf.
Samira Achbita, who claims she is being discriminated against on the grounds of her religion, has lost her lawsuit in two Belgian courts and is now before the country's Court of Cassation, which sought the EU court's opinion before ruling on the matter.
Kokott’s opinion is not a binding ruling and judges at the ECJ are now considering what final guidance to issue.