Following a complaint from a client, the employee in Bougnaoui v Micropole SA, a design engineer, was asked not to wear her Islamic headscarf when visiting clients. She refused and was subsequently dismissed. The case was sent to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to decide if the dismissal was discrimination based on the employee's religious beliefs. The Advocate General's Opinion is that dismissal for manifesting her religious beliefs was unlawful direct discrimination.
Just a few weeks ago the Opinion of the CJEU's Advocate General in Achbita was that a company rule banning religious symbols being worn visibly in the workplace was not direct discrimination against an employee of Muslim faith. The Advocate General went on, somewhat unexpectedly, to advise that although it might amount to indirect discrimination, it could be justified as "genuine occupational requirement" in terms of a way of enforcing a policy of religious neutrality.
The Advocate General in Bougnaoui has taken a different view on this point, saying that discrimination could not be defended on the ground of genuine occupational requirement. That defence could apply only in very limited circumstances, such as health and safety requirements. Here the wearing of the headscarf did not affect the employee's performance and the employer appeared to be relying on commercial interests based on the preference of its clients.
Both Opinions are only advisory – the CJEU itself is entitled to take a different view when it decides the two cases.