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Companies Can Ban Employees From Wearing Headscarves, Europe’s Top Court Rules

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Companies in the European Union can ban “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” as it does “not constitute direct discrimination,” the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

Europe’s highest court’s ruling was sparked by Samira Achbita, a Muslim woman working for the security company G4S, who was told that her wearing of a headscarf would not be tolerated because “the visible wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs” was contrary to the company’s position of neutrality.

About three years later, Achbita was dismissed from her job because of her “continuing insistence on wearing the Islamic headscarf at work,” a dismissal she then challenged in the Belgian courts.

But the ECJ ruled that it is not illegal for companies to have an internal rule prohibiting the wearing of a religious symbol. However, the court added that the ban cannot be based on the wishes of a customer. “The rule… treats all employees of the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them, generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally,” an ECJ press release explained.

The human rights group Amnesty International said bans on religious symbols to show neutrality opened “a backdoor to precisely such prejudice,” Reuters reports.

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Write to Kate Samuelson at kate.samuelson@time.com