EU Headscarf Ruling

24 March 2017

The European Union’s top court has ruled in favour of companies banning staff from wearing any political, philosophical or religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves.

The ruling states that garments can only be banned as part of a general policy. Companies are not allowed to single out individual religions or political symbols.

The ruling stemmed from a case involving the Belgium branch of security firm G4S, who fired a female receptionist for wearing a headscarf to work.

If you’re after the ins and outs of the ruling, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a list of common questions and answers to help you get to grips with the new legalised ban.

Q: What are the particulars of the outcome?

A: The ruling means that businesses can now legally ban the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious items without being accused of discrimination. As we previously mentioned though, this must be a blanket ban.

For example, businesses cannot allow some religions to express themselves and not others.

When implementing a ban, businesses must also be able to demonstrate a legitimate aim that can be objectively justified.

Q: Can I change my dress code policy in light of the ruling?

A: Although it’s now legal to enforce a neutral dress code, we’d not recommend you change your policy for this reason alone. The reason for this is that although the case found a neutral dress code is not deemed as directly discriminatory, it might make individuals adhering to a particular religion or belief feel uncomfortable and disadvantaged. In turn, this could have a negative impact on productivity and morale.

However, if you have health and safety concerns relating to religious, political or philosophical attire, you do now have the option to legally amend your policy.

It’s worth remembering that this is a European Judgement and the UK has a more flexible approach when it comes to religious clothing.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the ruling?

A: Yes. Health & Safety comes first and if you have concerns that certain attire affects the safety of your staff, you can request the individual(s) refrain from wearing said items.

If employees are required to wear protective equipment, they are now allowed to insist on wearing any attire that would give rise to safety concerns.

When setting out your dress code policy, be sure to make it specific to each section of your workforce. For example, employees working front of house are likely to need a different dress code to those working behind the scenes in a factory.

If these variances aren’t specified in your policy, you might open yourself up to potential disputes.

Q4: What should I do if an employee breaches the dress code policy?

A: This isn’t a one size fits all question. Dress code revolts should be handled informally, sensitively and on a case by case basis.

Q5: What can I put in my dress code policy?

A: There are no set rules when it comes to what you can and can’t include in your dress code policy. When setting out your dress code, be mindful that it must be fair, reasonable, apply to all employees and steer clear of burdening either gender.

Tattoos, footwear, religious attire, revealing uniforms, make-up and piercings are just a few problem areas you might want to consider when putting your dress code policy together. To dig a little deeper into dress code policies, head over to our infographic.

If you have any worries about your business’ dress code, give us a call or drop us a line and we’ll be on hand to put your mind at ease.

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