Bosses can ban workers from wearing headscarves, the top European Union’s court has ruled.

It is the court’s first decision on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work.

On the eve of the Dutch election where Muslim immigration has been a major theme, the Court of Justice gave a joined judgement in the cases of two women, in France and Belgium.

Employers are entitled to ban workers from the ‘visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign’, including headscarves

The wearing of religious symbols, and especially Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, has become a hot button issue with the rise of populist sentiment across Europe, with some countries such as Austria considering a complete ban on the full-face veil in public.

The ECJ was ruling on a case dating to 2003 when Samira Achbita, a Muslim, was employed as a receptionist by G4S security services in Belgium.

At the time, the company had an ‘unwritten rule’ that employees should not wear any political, religious or philosophical symbols at work, the ECJ said.

In 2006, Achbita told G4S she wanted to wear the Islamic headscarf at work but was told this would not be allowed.

Subsequently, the company introduced a formal ban. Achbita was dismissed and she went to court claiming discrimination.

In her case, the ECJ followed the advice of a senior legal adviser to the court, who said companies should be allowed to have policies banning the wearing of religious and political symbols.

The wearing of religious symbols, and especially Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, has become a hot button issue with the rise of populist sentiment across Europe

In the second case, French IT engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from consultancy firm, Micropole, following a complaint from a client about her headscarf.

Regarding that case, the court ruled that customers’ concerns did not give companies a get-out clause from EU anti-discrimination law.

The ECJ did not rule on whether her dismissal was based on her failure to observe company policies, saying it was a matter for the French court.

In a statement, the Court said: ‘An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,’ the Court said in a statement.

‘However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.’

A spokesman for G4S told MailOnline: ‘There is a long-standing custom in Belgium for organisations with diverse workforces to apply a policy of religious and political neutrality, especially where the organisation has staff who have contact with the public. Our policy is supported by employee representatives and has also been upheld at all levels in the Belgian courts.

‘On the question that was raised by the Belgian Supreme Court, whether the neutrality policy constituted direct discrimination based on religion, the court has now ruled that this is not the case and it will now be referred back to the Belgian Supreme Court.

‘It is our policy to comply with local laws in all countries in which we operate and this applies in relation to the wearing of religious symbols and dress. In many countries such as the UK where there is no strong tradition of religious and political neutrality, G4S permits the wearing of religious dress such as Islamic headscarves.’

Phil Pepper, employment law partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said: ‘This is an interesting decision by the ECJ, but it will not mean that UK businesses will be able to ban religious clothing in the workplace overnight. It will not be that simple. A blanket ban on headscarves is not the answer and creates significant grey areas for many employers.

‘Implementing dress neutrality policies is extremely difficult and in most cases, not realistic in the modern workplace. Any organisation that wants to adopt such a policy must give serious thought to how it would be implemented and received by employees. Get it wrong, and employers could easily end up on the wrong side of a discrimination case.

‘It is likely that we may see a trend towards some leniency on dress policies in future, following this ruling.’

Nadia Eweida, a British Airways Christian worker, suffered discrimination at work because of her Christian beliefs, the EU Court of Human Rights ruled

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