Court: Employers May Prohibit Employees from Wearing Religious Symbols

Country: European Institutions (EU, ECHR,

Date of incident: March 14, 2017

Category: Government Restrictions

Attack against: Faith

Area of case: Governmental / Workplace

On March 14, 2017, the European Court of Justice put employers' interest in "neutrality" above employees' exercise of religious freedom in a landmark judgment. The Court ruled that employers can prohibit the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign in the workplace.

While the facts before the Court involved female employees wearing headscarves, it is clear that "neutral" dress policies would also prohibit the wearing of Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps, and Christian crosses.
The Court's judgment may cause more confusion for employers than it solves, as it appears to conflict with the European Court of Human Rights' rulings on freedom of religion in the workplace. Specifically, the Court of Human Rights has said that wearing religious symbols is "sometimes an employee's right to manifest freedom of religion."
Criticism of the ruling has come from several different faith leaders. The Church of England has said: 
"This ruling raises significant questions about freedom of religion and its free expression. Whether it be Sikhism and the wearing of turbans and kara through to the wearing of a cross.
"In preferencing 'freedom to conduct a business' above the free expression of faith the ruling potentially places corporate interest above those of the individual.
Equally troubling is the assumption of "neutrality" within the ruling. The imposition of blanket bans – whilst often seeking honourable outcomes – may represent a worldview based on dogmatic or ideological assumptions which may unjustly limit individual rights." Source: Judgments in Cases C-157/15 Achbita, Centrum voor Gelijkheid van kansen en voor racismebestrijding v G4S Secure Solutions, and C-188/15 Bougnaoui and Association de défense des droits de l’homme (ADDH) v Micropole Univers