Employers are entitled to ban workers from the “visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” including headscarves, Europe’s top court has ruled.
But the ban must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”, said the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
It cannot be based on the wishes of a customer, it said.
It is the court’s first decision on the issue of Islamic headscarves at work.
The ECJ’s ruling was prompted by the case of a receptionist fired for wearing a headscarf to work at the company G4S in Belgium.
Belgium’s court of cassation had referred the case to the EU’s top court for clarification.
Samira Achbita was fired when after three years of employment, she began wearing a headscarf to work.
She claimed she was being discriminated against on the grounds of her religion.
But the company had amended workplace regulations to forbid employees “from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs”, the court explained in its ruling.
That covered “any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction”, and was therefore not discriminatory, it said.
It said “an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate” – but national courts must make sure this policy of neutrality had been applied equally to all employees.
It said the Belgian court ruling on the case must also ascertain whether it could have been possible to offer Ms Achbita another post not involving visual contact with customers.