Rights groups have attacked the European Court of Justice after it ruled employers can ban religious symbols, including headscarves, at work.
The judgement by the ECJ means workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” do not necessary constitute direct discrimination.
Anti-racism activists fear the decision will directly affect Muslim women.
Georgina Siklossy, spokeswoman for the European Network Against Racism said: “So we are extremely worried by this ruling because we fear that it will effectively exclude Muslim women from the labour market and it will force them to have to choose between their rights to express their religion through clothing and their right to access the labour market. So it is really a disappointing ruling and it will essentially give employers a licence to discriminate against Muslim women.”
The court ruled, however, that firms must have an internal policy already in place and cannot ban or sack a worker for wearing a religious symbol, purely on the wishes of a customer.
Claire Waquet, the lawyer for one woman who brought her case to the ECJ after she was sacked for wearing a headscarf following a customer complaint said:“As far as I am concerned, I think something is very clear: it’s not enough for one client to say ‘I don’t want this or that’ and for it to have an immediate knock-on effect on employees. It’s more complicated than that. Employers have a role, they need to filter discriminatory requests, they need to play a part”.
Tuesday’s judgment came on the eve of the Dutch election where Muslim integration has been a contentious issue.
It was prompted by the cases of two women – one living in France and one in Belgium – who were dismissed for refusing to remove their headscarves while at work.