EU advisor backs workplace headscarf ban

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Employers in the European Union may be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves in the workplace after a top court advisor said the decision wasn’t necessarily discriminatory.

"A ban on wearing headscarves in companies may be admissible if the ban is based on a general company rule which prohibits political, philosophical and religious symbols from being worn visibly in the workplace,” stated Juliane Kokott, advocate general to the European Court of Justice.

“Such a ban may be justified if it enables the employer to pursue the legitimate policy of ensuring religious and ideological neutrality," she continued.

Kokott’s comments came after a Belgian court sought clarification on what is banned by EU anti-discrimination laws – it’s currently embroiled in a case of a receptionist who claims she was discriminated against on the basis of her religion.

Samira Achbita had worked for security firm for three years when she insisted on being allowed to wear a headscarf – she was dismissed because the company explicitly bans the wearing of any visible religious, political and philosophical symbols.

“While an employee cannot 'leave' his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability 'at the door' upon entering his employer's premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace,” Kokott added.

While her opinion is not a binding legal ruling, judges at the EU’s highest court are now considering final guidance on the issue.

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