EU headscarf ruling could affect Swedish discrimination cases
Employers may bar staff from wearing visible religious symbols, the EU Court of Justice determined today in its first decision on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves, a ruling that could also impact Swedish discrimination cases.
The Court of Justice (ECJ) gave a joined judgment in the cases of two women, in France and Belgium, who were dismissed for refusing to remove headscarves. The Court found that employers may decide to ban any visible "political, philosophical or religious symbol", and this would not constitute discrimination.
"An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination," the Court said in a statement.
The statement continued: "However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination."
Speaking to Swedish Radio, Martin Mörk, head of litigation at the Equality Ombudsman's office in Sweden, said "we have been waiting pretty long for this ruling".
Mörk explained that since the ECJ is the highest court for discrimination cases, it would be pointless for the Swedish Ombudsman to take up similar cases regarding women who want to wear the Islamic headscarf at work in Sweden while waiting for the EU's top court to give the final word.
However, Mörk also said that the Court's ruling concerns "the minimum standard for protection, and there's nothing preventing employers from having an inclusive policy, which would allow people to wear religious symbols, regardless of today's Court ruling".