The Court of Justice of the European Union looked at the delicate issue of using religious symbols in the workplace under a ruling published on 15 July 2021, in Joined Cases C-804/18 and C-341/19. According to the Court, the prohibition of wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace can be justified by the employer’s need “to appear neutral before customers or prevent social conflicts.”
The decision of the European judges stems from an action brought before the Hamburg Labour Court by two female employees of a company incorporated under German Law, who were asked not to wear conspicuous signs indicating their religious affiliation.
The referring courts decided to question the Court on the interpretation of Directive 2000/78. They asked whether a company’s internal rule prohibiting workers from wearing visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace constituted direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of belief. In addition, they wanted to know under what conditions any treatment difference indirectly based on belief resulting from such a rule could be justified, and what factors should be considered when examining the appropriateness of such a treatment difference.
The EU Courts have held that company regulations described above do not constitute direct discrimination on the grounds of belief against workers, provided that “that rule is applied in a general and indiscriminate manner.” According to the Court, such imposition does not entail indirect discrimination as the different treatment imposed is limited to what is strictly necessary and is justified by a policy of neutrality towards customers or users which meets an employer’s need. The burden of proof of this is on the employer.
Continue reading the full version published in Norme & Tributi Plus Diritto of Il Sole 24 Ore.