Skip to main content

Workplaces can impose hijab bans, rules top EU court

Court of Justice of the European Union ruling states that headscarf can be prohibited by companies if done in 'general' manner
An inside view of the Court of Justice of the European Union headquarters in Luxembourg (AFP/File photo)
An inside view of the Court of Justice of the European Union headquarters in Luxembourg (AFP/File photo)

The European Union’s top court has ruled that companies within its members states can ban hijabs as long as it is done in a “general” way which does not constitute “direct discrimination”. 

The ruling, published by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Thursday, concerned an ongoing dispute since 2018 between a Muslim woman in Belgium and SCRL, a company that manages social housing. 

The woman was told during an interview for a six-week internship that she could not wear a hijab because SCRL had a neutrality rule banning all head coverings. 

She brought forward legal action against the company to a Belgian court, which later sought guidance from the top European court. 

“The internal rule of an undertaking prohibiting the visible wearing of religious, philosophical or spiritual signs does not constitute direct discrimination if it is applied to all workers in a general and undifferentiated way,” the court said. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


It added that if such an internal company rule, such as that applied by SCRL, resulted in the indirect disadvantage of a particular religion or belief, then it would constitute “a difference in treatment”. 

It said that for it not to constitute “indirect discrimination”, the company would need to show a demonstrable “genuine need” for pursuing a neutrality policy. 

Last year, the European Union court was condemned by Muslim women and campaign groups after issuing a similar ruling which stated that employers could, in principle, ban staff from wearing hijabs.

In January, the French senate voted in favour of an explicit ban on "the wearing of the veil in sports competitions", triggering an uproar by women's rights advocates.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.