The top court in the European Union on Tuesday ruled that employers will be allowed to ban employees from wearing religious or political symbols in the workplace, such as headscarves commonly worn by Muslim women.
In the other case, Asma Bougnaoui, a Muslim woman, arrived at Micropole - a consulting, engineering, and training firm - in France for an internship in February 2008 wearing a bandana but later wore a headscarf.
The ECJ said the Belgian courts must research whether G4S was indeed simply implementing its policy, or seeking to discriminate against an employee based on their religion.
Following a case brought before the European Courts of Justice by a receptionist in Belgian who was sacked for wearing a headscarf, advocate general Julianne Kokott determined that, while an employee can't "leave" their sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability at home, they can be expected to "moderate the exercise of they religion in the workplace".
The Belgian woman, Samira Achbita, was sacked in June 2006 from G4S Secure Solutions where she was working as a receptionist after refusing to remove her headscarf.
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In the Belgian case, Samira Achbita was sacked as a receptionist by a security company after she insisted she should be allowed to work wearing an Islamic headscarf.
In France, design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was sacked from a private company called Micropole, after a customer complaint about her hijab in 2008.
The women took their cases to the ECJ, which ruled that such internal bans do not constitute "direct discrimination".
But a group backing the fired employees said the ruling may shut many Muslim women out of the workforce. "Many will be anxious that this action will prevent Muslim women who chose to wear the scarf from securing jobs". In many countries such as the United Kingdom where there is no strong tradition of religious and political neutrality, G4S permits the wearing of religious dress such as Islamic headscarves'.
However in a related case in France, the court said a customer could not demand a company employee not wear the Islamic headscarf when conducting business with them on its behalf. But when hired, the security firm had an "unwritten rule" about no religious symbols in the workplace.
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The wearing of religious symbols, and especially Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, has become a hot issue with the rise of nationalist and sometimes overtly anti-Muslim parties across Europe.
In the other case, the court found that a company in Belgium may have correctly exercised its right to dismiss an employee.
An office worker in Bradford, West Yorkshire Delivering its judgement, the court said that a company's desire to project a neutral image is legitimate, if it is enforced by internal dress code rules.
For years, courts across Europe have faced complex decisions on religious symbols in the workplace. "European Union lawmakers must now act quickly to make it clear that the scope of this directive includes direct discrimination on the basis of religious dress".
In Germany, the government is considering a partial ban on full face veils.
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