Headscarves can be banned at work under certain conditions, according to the highest rules of the EU court

Companies may under certain conditions ban Muslim employees from wearing a headscarf, the European Union’s highest court said Thursday in two cases brought by Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs after they started wearing the Islamic garment.

“A ban on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image to customers or to avoid social disputes,” the court said.

“However, that justification must meet a genuine need of the employer and national courts may, when reconciling the rights and interests concerned, take into account the specific context of their Member State and in particular the more favorable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion.”

Both Muslim women — a special caretaker at a nursery in Hamburg run by a charitable organization, and a cashier at the Mueller drugstore chain — didn’t wear headscarves when they started their jobs, but decided to do so years later after returning from parental leave.

They were told by their respective employers that this was not allowed, and at various times were either suspended, told to come without work or take another job, court documents show.

The issue of the hijab – the traditional headscarf worn around the head and shoulders – has sparked controversy in Europe for years and underlined sharp divisions over the integration of Muslims.

In a 2017 ruling, the EU court in Luxembourg had already said that under certain conditions, companies can ban their staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols. At the time, this had caused a huge backlash among faith groups.


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