Hijab can be banned at work, rules EU top court

European Union’s top court said on Thursday that companies may ban Muslim employees from wearing a headscarf under certain conditions.

The case was brought to court by two women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs for wearing one.

Both Muslim women – a special need carer at a childcare center in Hamburg run by a charitable association, and a cashier at the Mueller pharmacy chain – had not been wearing headscarves when they started in their jobs but decided to do so years later after coming back from parental leave.

They were told by their respective employer that this was not allowed, and were at different points either suspended, told to come to work without it, or put on a different job, court documents show.

The issue of the hijab has caused controversy across Europe for years and underlined sharp differences over integrating Muslims.

Headscarf bans for women at work have been a hotly contested issue in Germany for years, mostly with regard to aspiring teachers at state schools and trainee judges. This has not so far been a major theme in the campaign for this year’s legislative elections.

Elsewhere in Europe, courts have also had to look into where and how headscarves can sometimes be banned at work.

France’s top court upheld in 2014 the dismissal of a Muslim daycare worker for wearing a headscarf at a private creche that demanded strict neutrality from employees. France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, prohibited the wearing of Islamic headscarves in state schools in 2004.

However, Austria’s constitutional court has ruled that a law there banning girls aged up to 10 from wearing headscarves in schools was discriminatory.

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