The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has advised in the French case of Bougnaoui v Micropole SA, that it was unlawful to ban a Muslim employee from wearing an Islamic headscarf whilst she was in contact with clients.
By way of background Ms Bougnaoui, a practicing Muslim, was employed as a design engineer. Ms Bougnaoui wore her Islamic headscarf, a hijab, at work and when she visited clients. The hijab covered her head but left her face visible. A client of the business then complained that there should be “no veil next time” Ms Bougnaoui visited. Ms Bougnaoui’s employer subsequently asked her not to wear her hijab when she visited clients in future and when she refused she was dismissed.
Ms Bougnaoui took her claim to the French Labour Tribunal but it was not upheld. Ms Bougnaoui appealed and the matter was eventually referred to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling whether the employer’s policy of requiring Ms Bougnaoui to remove her hijab when visiting clients was a “genuine and determining occupational requirement”.
The Advocate General of the CJEU has subsequently concluded that dismissing Ms Bougnaoui for failing to follow the instruction to remove the hijab amounted to unlawful direct discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. The Advocate General added that such discrimination would only ever be lawful if it was based on an occupational requirement that must be genuine and limited to those matters which are absolutely necessary in order to undertake the professional activity in question.
The matter will now be reverted back to the CJEU who will give their decision on how the EU law should be interpreted . Although the Advocate General’s decision is not binding, it is nearly always followed by the CJEU.
Should you require any further clarification on the above case, or if your business requires assistance updating its policy handbook, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 672 1425.