Employers may prohibit the wearing of visible religious or political insignia, like as headscarves, according to the European Union's top court.
However, the Luxembourg-based tribunal said in its judgement on Thursday that judges in the EU's 27 member states should consider whether the prohibition was justified by the employer's "genuine need.
“An employer's obligation to project a neutral image to consumers or to avert social disagreements may justify a prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical, or religious ideas in the workplace,” the court said.
“However, that justification must correspond to a genuine need on the part of the employer, and national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State, in particular more favourable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion, in reconciling the rights and interests at issue.”
Two German women were fired from their jobs after they began wearing the hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who believe it is an important part of their religion.
Both Muslim women — a special needs caregiver at a humanitarian organization's childcare center in Hamburg and a cashier at the Mueller pharmacy chain – did not wear headscarves when they started their careers, but opted to do so after returning from maternity leave years later.
For years, the topic of the hijab has aroused debate across Europe, highlighting deep disparities over Muslim integration.
Companies may prevent employees from wearing headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols under certain conditions, according to a 2017 judgement by the European Union court in Luxembourg. This generated a major response among religious groups at the time.
Courts have also had to look into where and how headscarves can sometimes be banned at work elsewhere in Europe.
The expulsion of a Muslim daycare worker for wearing a headscarf at a private creche that sought strict neutrality from employees was upheld by France's top court in 2014. In 2004, France, which has Europe's largest Muslim minority, made it illegal to wear Islamic headscarves in public schools.
The Austrian constitutional court, on the other hand, concluded that a legislation prohibiting girls under the age of ten from wearing headscarves in schools was discriminatory.