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European Union court says companies can ban headscarves in workplace

The headscarves, worn mostly by Muslim women, have been a persistent issue in Europe where some companies have argued that policy banning the items was a show against favoritism. Critics have said the rules are discriminatory and target those practicing Islam. File Photo by Stephanie Pilick/EPA
The headscarves, worn mostly by Muslim women, have been a persistent issue in Europe where some companies have argued that policy banning the items was a show against favoritism. Critics have said the rules are discriminatory and target those practicing Islam. File Photo by Stephanie Pilick/EPA

July 15 (UPI) -- The European Union Court of Justice ruled Thursday that private employers can prohibit headscarves if it's part of a comprehensive ban on all religious and political symbols in relation to a policy on neutrality.

The decision, part of a case brought by two Muslim women working in Germany, reaffirmed a similar decision made in 2017.

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In a statement, the court said the ban can be "justified by the employer's need to present a neutral image or to prevent social disputes."

In the original case, a childcare worker and sales assistant were both told to remove their headscarves after returning from parental leave.

Both were told their companies did not allow religious symbols and the women decided to take the issue to court.

The headscarves, worn mostly by Muslim women, have been a persistent issue in Europe where some companies have argued that policy banning the items was a show against favoritism. Critics have said the rules are discriminatory and target those practicing Islam.

Expert Martijn van den Brink, a British Academy post-doctoral fellow at Oxford University, called the court's ruling Thursday inconsistent at best.

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"A ban on all religious, political and philosophical clothing is also liable to affect some religious people more severely (e.g. female Muslims)," van den Brink tweeted. "Why, then, do such bans not amount to direct discrimination, but only possible indirect discrimination?

"The biggest shortcoming is the part on the justification of neutrality policies. The financial interests of employers and anti-religious/Muslim prejudices of customers are more important than the rights of vulnerable employees."

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