In the case of Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions, the European Court of Justice has today held that the dismissal of a Muslim employee for wearing a hijab at work did not constitute direct religious discrimination.
Ms Achbita brought a discrimination claim against the company, following her dismissal for breaching the company's internal policy, which required employees to dress 'neutrally' and prohibited employees in customer-facing roles from wearing any political, philosophical or religious symbols. The Court found that the company's policy was not directly discriminatory against Ms Achbita, as it applied to all of its employees in customer facing roles and covered any manifestation of political, philosophical or religious beliefs without distinction.
The Court was not asked to consider whether such a policy was indirectly discriminatory (ie whether it put employees from a particular religious background at a disadvantage). The Court commented that a policy of this type might be indirectly discriminatory, but that it might also be justifiable if the aim behind the policy was legitimate (such as a policy of neutrality) and proportionately applied.
The outcome of this case and the jointly-heard case of Bougnaoui v Micropole (a case with similar facts, which was referred back to the French national courts for judgment) has been eagerly anticipated, as the preliminary opinions given by the Court's Advocate-Generals gave differing views as to whether an employment policy of this type constituted direct discrimination. This outcome will be a relief to employers who have dress codes with restrictions on wearing religious dress or symbols, although it remains important to ensure that policies of this type are proportionate and have a legitimate aim behind them.