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BEERG Newsletter - CJEU: Religious symbols can be banned in the workplace

In a judgment handed down on 13 October, the Court of Justice of the European Union dismissed a claimant who brought a case in Belgium concerning a dispute over the conclusion of an internship agreement. 

The claimant, who wore an Islamic headscarf, said she had been discriminated against on the grounds of religious belief. Although the recruiters had expressed a positive opinion on her application, no action was taken. She had indicated that she would refuse to remove her headscarf, although the company had made this a prerequisite for her hiring, pointing to internal regulations prohibiting the display of religious or philosophical beliefs. 

Not ruling on the merits, the Belgian court referred the matter to the CJEU, asking whether this general ban on the part of the company could constitute discrimination in breach of Directive 2000/78, when a person wearing a “visible sign (with connotations)” is treated less favourably than another worker who has no “need” to display their beliefs publicly. Relying on its case law the Court sets two conditions for such a prohibition: the undifferentiated application of the rule according to beliefs and the demonstration by the company of a “legitimate aim”. 

The CJEU accepted these two conditions in this case, as the company argued that it wished to “display, in relations with both public- and private-sector customers, a policy of political, philosophical or religious neutrality”.

Published on: October 19, 2022

Authors: Tom Hayes

Topics: People and Culture, The UK and European Union

Tom Hayes

Director of European Union and Global Labor Affairs, HR Policy Association

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