According to the ECJ ruling: The banishment of the headscarf, cross and kippah

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15/07/2021

Employers can dictate religious neutrality to their employees, says the European Court of Justice. But freedom has its limits.



We mean everyone, but in fact it mainly affects Muslim women: They display their religious symbol so obviously that a number of courts have had to deal with the question of what space religious freedom is allowed to occupy in society – at school, in court and in private companies.

The European Court of Justice has now made a groundbreaking decision on the latter: Companies can insist on religious, ideological and political neutrality towards their employees – if they have good reasons for doing so and consistently ban all religious symbols.

Corinna Budras

Business correspondent in Berlin.

This gives private companies a leeway that is anything but unlimited.

The mere will to be neutral is not enough, emphasize the Luxembourg judges, there must be a “real need”: the rights and legitimate expectations of customers, for example, or the wish of parents to have their children supervised by “neutral” people.

A possible goal could also be to avoid “social conflicts”, which of course leaves room for interpretation and blame.

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In any case, courts must carefully examine whether this need exists.

The tone of the European judges is different

The ban must also be systematic and cover all religious symbols equally. If the employer decides to enter the mined area, he may not tolerate the cross or the kippah. Every sign, no matter how small, could ultimately impair the pursued goal of being neutral towards customers. In the two cases on which the decision was based, the Luxembourg judges had little criticism of the employers’ consistency. Neither of them tolerated any religious signs in their work environment.  

The reason for the judgment was, on the one hand, the lawsuit brought by a Muslim employee at a daycare center in Hamburg. She had been warned several times for coming to work with a headscarf. In addition, a Muslim woman who works as a saleswoman in the drugstore chain Müller and wanted to bring down her employer’s headscarf ban had gone to court.  

With this judgment, the European Court of Justice goes further than the courts in Germany, in particular the Federal Constitutional Court. The Karlsruhe judges have always attached great importance to the constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Even the Luxembourg judges do not brush them aside completely, but the tone is different if they succinctly recognize that the employer’s strict rules could cause employees “particular inconvenience”. However, they also make it clear: Member States are free to allow a different assessment if they enact specific regulations. (Ref .: C-804/18 and C-341/19).

Source: faz

According to the ECJ ruling: The banishment of the headscarf, cross and kippah – Teller Report

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