European Court: No Headscarf for Employees If Customer Asks

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Employers may prohibit their staff from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols, even if this has the practical effect of treating believers unequally. But then they must demonstrate that their customers want this, the European Court of Justice has ruled.


This can be done, for example, if parents ask the leader of their daycare centre not to wear a cross around their neck.

The Luxembourg court previously allowed employers to ask their employees to dress neutrally. At least if that rule applies to all staff and is not explicitly intended to prevent, for example, Muslim women from wearing a headscarf or Christians from wearing a sign of the cross. Then there is no direct discrimination.

But in practice, such a neutrality rule can turn out like this, the court acknowledges. After all, this hinders employees who, based on their faith or conviction, want to dress up in a certain way more than others. However, that is also allowed, provided customers demonstrably appreciate it or if colleagues could otherwise get into an argument. Then the employer has a real interest in it, and that is justified.

Employers cannot distinguish between large, immediately striking religious signs, such as a skullcap, headscarf or turban, and smaller variants such as a modest cross necklace. That would disadvantage people who have a belief or belief that simply uses very visible symbols. Thus, neutral is neutral, the court finds.

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