Samira Achbita & Anor v G4S Secure Solutions NV [2016] EUECJ C-157/15

Is a private employer permitted to prohibit a female employee of Muslim faith from wearing a headscarf in the workplace? And is that employer permitted to dismiss her if she refuses to remove the headscarf at work? These are, in essence, the questions which the Court must answer, for the first time in the present case, from the point of view of EU law, and, more specifically, in the light of the prohibition on discrimination based on religion or belief.

The Claimant worked for G4S who said that employees were not permitted to wear any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty. Initially, that prohibition applied only as an unwritten company rule. With the approval the G4S works council, the following written formulation was incorporated into the G4S employee code of conduct with effect from 13 June 2006:

'employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from giving expression to any ritual arising from them.'

On 12 June 2006, on account of her firm intention, as a Muslim woman, to wear the Islamic headscarf, the Claimant was dismissed. Her claim for wrongful dismissal on the grounds of direct discrimination relating to her religion was dismissed and the appeal against that decision has been stayed until the following question at this preliminary hearing had been decided by the ECJ:

'Should Article 2(2)(a) of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 [establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation] be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition on wearing, as a female Muslim, a headscarf at the workplace does not constitute direct discrimination where the employer's rule prohibits all employees from wearing outward signs of political, philosophical and religious beliefs at the workplace?'

The court concluded as follows:

  1. The fact that a female employee of Muslim faith is prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf at work does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion within the meaning of Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2000/78/EC if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudice against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. That ban may, however, constitute indirect discrimination based on religion under Article 2(2)(b) of that directive.
  1. Such discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality pursued by the employer in the company concerned, in so far as the principle of proportionality is observed in that regard.

In that connection, the following factors in particular must be taken into account:

* the size and conspicuousness of the religious symbol, * the nature of the employee's activity, * the context in which she has to perform that activity, and * the national identity of the Member State concerned.

Read the full text of the judgment on Bailii

Published: 02/06/2016 10:20