In an important decision, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has recently considered two joined cases in which employees alleged that their employer's requirements regarding their dress discriminated against them on religious grounds.
The decision is reported but it is important to note that the ECJ has not given employers complete freedom to “ban” the wearing of a hijab or other religious forms of dress.
It has merely agreed that there may be limited circumstances where an employer may be able to objectively justify a ban on all religious clothing and symbols.
An employer cannot pick and choose which religious clothes/symbols are acceptable and which are not; if any are banned, then all must be banned.
The ECJ suggested that such a ban can only be justified for customer-facing staff and that transfer to internal roles should be considered before dismissal. In the absence of a neutral dress code, an employer should not simply concede to the fact that a service user or customer prefers to deal with a worker who does not wear a hijab.
Some European countries have a culture of secularism and religious neutrality, whereas the UK stands for culture of diversity. Will a difference in culture will make it more difficult to objectively justify a strict dress code in the UK?
Deciding to impose a dress code which bans religious, political and philosophical symbols is not a decision employers should take easily and it would be sensible to take legal advice before doing so.