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Hijab Can Be Prohibited At Work, States Apex European Union Court

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Hijab Ban: Under certain circumstances, employers may prohibit Muslim employees from wearing a headscarf, the European Union’s top court said on Thursday. 

For years, the hijab, a traditional headscarf has sparked debate across Europe, highlighting deep divisions over Muslim integration.

The decision was taken in regard to the two cases brought under the judiciary. The cases of both Muslim women – a cashier at the Mueller pharmacy chain and a special-needs carer at a charitable organization’s childcare centre in Hamburg – did not wear headscarves when they started their careers, but opted to do so years later after returning from parental leave.

According to court documents and statements, they were told that this was not permitted and was either suspended, forced to come to work without it, or assigned to a different position at various times.

In both cases, the EU court had to assess whether headscarf prohibitions at work constituted a violation of religious freedom or were permissible as part of the right to conduct business and the desire to project a neutral image to clients. Its response was that such prohibitions could be imposed if they were warranted by an employer’s need to project a neutral image.

Employer Must Have Genuine Justification

The court stated that an employer’s requirement to portray a neutral image toward consumers or to avert social disagreements may justify a “prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical, or religious beliefs in the workplace”.

However, it additionally stated that the justification must be based on a genuine necessity on the part of the employer. In both cases, national courts will now have the final word on whether or not there was any discrimination.

In the case of the care centre employee, the court found that the rule in question was enforced in a broad and undifferentiated manner, as the employer also compelled an employee wearing a religious cross to remove it.

According to an EU court ruling issued in 2017, companies may prevent employees from wearing Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols under certain conditions. This ruling sparked outrage among various faith organisations.

Prevalence Of The Hijab Issue Over The Years In Europe

Judicial Organisations all across Europe have had to consider and deliberate where, how and if headscarves can be prohibited at work.

In Germany, Muslims account for more than 5 million people, making them the country’s largest religious minority. For years, headscarf restrictions for women at work have been a contentious topic in Germany, particularly among aspiring teachers and trainee judges.

In 2004, France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim minority, made it illegal to wear Islamic headscarves in public schools. The suspension of a Muslim daycare worker for wearing a headscarf at a private crèche that sought strict neutrality from employees was again affirmed by France’s top court in 2014. 

The Austrian constitutional court, on the other hand, concluded that legislation prohibiting girls under the age of ten from wearing headscarves in schools was discriminatory.