Companies may ban employees from wearing a headscarf under certain conditions, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.
The ruling addressed cases brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their workplaces after they started wearing headscarves at work.
The court said "a prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer's need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.
"However, that justification must correspond to a genuine need on the part of the employer and, in reconciling the rights and interests at issue, the national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State and, in particular, more favorable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion."
Ultimatums for both women
One of the Muslim women worked as a special needs carer at a childcare center in Hamburg run by a charitable association. The other was a cashier at the Müller drugstore chain.
At the time of starting their jobs, they were not wearing the scarves but decided to do so years later after coming back from parental leave.
Court documents show that the women were told by their respective employers that this was not allowed, and were at different points either suspended, told to come to work without a head covering, or put on a different job.
What the court has said
The court ruled that in the case of the care center employee, the rule prohibiting her from wearing the headscarf was applied in a general way since the employer also required an employee wearing a Christian cross to remove the religious sign.
The ruling in both cases will now be up to national courts to have the final say if there was any discrimination.
The wearing of the traditional headscarf by Muslim women has over the years sparked controversy across Europe, underlining sharp divisions over integrating Muslims.
A ruling in 2017 by the EU court in Luxembourg said that companies may bar staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols under certain conditions.
This ruling received a huge backlash among faith groups.
on/sms (Reuters, dpa)