In a recent case, Bougnaoui v Micropole SA, the French employee wore a headscarf which covered her head (but not her face), in line with her Muslim faith. She was requested by her employer not to wear the headscarf to client meetings, following a complaint by a customer. They had said that they supported a religious neutrality policy and therefore felt uncomfortable.
The claimant refused to remove her headscarf during meetings and was dismissed by the employer. The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled it was direct religious discrimination, but it’s ruling will not be binding until the CJEU passes final judgement later this year.
The ruling however contradicts a previous ruling in Achbita and another v G4S Secure Solutions NV, where it was said that asking for alterations to visible religious dress codes would not amount to direct religious discrimination and would at most amount to indirect discrimination. This was however in relation to direct occupational requirements for health and safety reasons and this is the difference between the two cases.
If there is a health and safety requirement such as insisting on protective headgear then the request could be justified and may not amount to discrimination. In the case of Bougnaoui v Micropole SA, there was no occupational reason for removal and therefore the claimant was subject to direct religious discrimination.
Both cases highlight the need for caution when considering situations regarding employees’ dress code. If you need any further advice, please speak to one of the team at FusionHR on 01924 827869.