26 May 2020


International Cases

Asma Bougnaoui Association de défense des droits de l’homme (ADDH) v. Micropole SA

India

13.07.2016

Human Rights

Religious discrimination in workplace must be for legitimate business aim

The European Court of Justice ruled on the question “To what extent does the prohibition of discrimination based on religion or belief under EU law render unlawful the dismissal of an employee who is a practising Muslim on the ground that she refuses to comply with an instruction from her employer that she is not to wear a veil or headscarf when in contact with the customers of the business?”, referred by the Court of Cassation in France.

The ECJ prefaced that its decision was limited not only to women of the Islamic faith, but to all persons regardless of gender and faith. And it expanded the scope of its judgment from religious apparel to cover even religious signs. It iterated the breadth of the issue and the various approaches adopted by member states to ensure that individual liberty was balanced with the needs of the society and public safety.

It’s ruling lay in reaching a ‘proportional’ compromise between discrimination and a legitimate aim. Businesses’ requirement of maintaing a certain decorum for employees interacting with customers, enforcing working hours and taking measures to maintain harmony in the workplace were found to be legitimate aims.

The court reasoned that a larger organisation would have greater flexibility in assigning roles to meet an employee’s religious beliefs, than a smaller one. However, if the employee’s religious attire impeded his or her ability to communicate effectively, the employer’s demand prohibiting the same would not make it egregious. It opined, “Western society regards visual or eye contact as being of fundamental importance in any relationship involving face-to-face communication between representatives of a business and its customers…a rule that imposed a prohibition on wearing religious apparel that covers the eyes and face entirely whilst performing a job that involved such contact with customers would be proportionate.” However, an employee involved with no face-to-face communication with customers could not be placed in the same situation, and prohibiting facial coverings may not be justified.

The court concluded: “where there is indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief [european law] should be construed so as to recognise that the interests of the employer’s business will constitute a legitimate aim for the purposes of that provision. Such discrimination is justified only if it is proportionate to that aim."

Tags : europe religious attire discrimination workplace

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