An adviser to the European Court of Justice says companies can prohibit staff from wearing the Islamic headscarf as part of a general ban on religious and political symbols.
The tribunal is currently hearing a compensation claim from a woman who was dismissed from her job for wearing an Islamic headscarf.
This is the first time Europe’s highest court is handling a case on banning the headscarf, referred to it by a Belgian court.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued the opinion Tuesday after the Belgian court asked for clarification on what is prohibited by EU anti-discrimination laws.
Kokott considered the headscarf to be a “religious symbol,” which could be banned by the employer as part of a general prohibition against items of religious significance.
“While an employee cannot ‘leave’ his sex, skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability ‘at the door’ upon entering his employer’s premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace,” she said.
European countries have already taken a tough stance against the burqa, a full-body veil worn by some Muslim women.
In the Belgian case, Samira Achbita was fired as a receptionist by a security company after she insisted she should be allowed to work wearing an Islamic headscarf.
Achbita has lost her discrimination lawsuit in two Belgian courts and is now before the country’s Court of Cassation, which sought the EU court’s opinion.
The advocate general’s findings are not binding but the EU court typically follows the adviser’s recommendation.
In 2004, France made a ban on hijab into a broad law, which also affects schoolchildren and even parents who want to accompany class outings.
The ban, which views hijab as a “conspicuous” religious symbol, has enraged France’s Muslim community, which is the largest in Europe.
Some schools and public institutions in Belgium have also banned the headscarf.
Last year, however, Germany’s top court threw out a ban on teachers’ wearing headscarves at schools.
The European Court of Justice is expected to rule on the case later this year after taking the advocate general’s observation into account.