On July 15th, 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) reaffirmed the prohibition of wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace, thus supporting employers who restrict women from wearing Hijabs and other religious attires to their workplace, with the aim of maintaining a neutral image.
Various human rights activists and Muslims condemned the ruling of the CJEU, claiming that it’s a breach of religious freedom, a discrimination against individuals wearing religious attire and a contributing factor to the increase of Islamophobia. Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed that:
“The decision by the European Court of Justice in the workplace is another blow to the rights of Muslim women with headscarf and will play right into the hand of those warmongers against Islam in Europe”.
This upheaval was triggered by the CJEU’s ruling to two separate cases brought to the court by two German-Muslim women who were suspended from their jobs for wearing Hijabs. Notably, neither of the individuals wore Hijabs when initiating employment while both returned wearing a headscarf subsequently returning from parental leave. In both cases, the employees were requested by their employers to remove their headscarf at their place of work, justifying their intentions and genuine need to present a neutral image towards customers and to prevent social disputes. The CJEU deemed this justification valid, while clarifying that this ruling did not refer solely to Hijabs, but to any explicit expression of religious or political beliefs at work and therefore is not considered a case of discrimination.
The CJEU concluded that the employer’s preference of image in relation to customers is regarded legitimate with the consideration of maintaining political, philosophical and religious neutrality.