Achbita and anor v G4S Secure Solutions NV [2016] CJEU Case C 157/15 (AG's Opinion)

  • Case Reference
    CJEU Case C 157/15 (AG Opinion)
  • Legal Body
    Court of Justice EU (CJEU/ECJ)
  • Type of Claim / Jurisdiction
    Discrimination and Equality
Issues covered: Equal Treatment Framework Directive; Wearing of Visible Religious, Political or Philosophical Symbols; Banning Headscarves from Workplace

Is the banning of headscarves and other headwear worn for religious reasons unlawful discrimination under the Equal Treatment Framework Directive?

Not according to the opinion of the Advocate General in this case.

** Note: The CJEU decision in the case of Samira Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions NV was published in 2017. **

The opinion in this case involving a receptionist working for G4S starts with two questions: Is a private employer permitted to prohibit a female employee of Muslim faith from wearing a headscarf in the workplace? And is that employer permitted to dismiss her if she refuses to remove the headscarf at work? The answer is yes to both, according to AG Kokott.

The ability to enforce such a ban is dependent on the employer having an expressed policy of workplace neutrality in relation to religion and ideology and has other caveats on proprtionality, according to the AG:

"1) The fact that a female employee of Muslim faith is prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf at work does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion within the meaning of Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2000/78/EC if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudice against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. That ban may, however, constitute indirect discrimination based on religion under Article 2(2)(b) of that directive.

2) Such discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality pursued by the employer in the company concerned, in so far as the principle of proportionality is observed in that regard.

In that connection, the following factors in particular must be taken into account:

  • the size and conspicuousness of the religious symbol,
  • the nature of the employee’s activity,
  • the context in which she has to perform that activity, and
  • the national identity of the Member State concerned."

These appear to be important factors that impacted on the AG's opinion. Ms Achbita was a receptionist - not someone who worked away from the public. The policy was deemed proportionate.

G4S employees are not permitted to wear any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty. Initially, that prohibition applied only as an unwritten company rule. With the approval the G4S works council, the following written formulation was incorporated into the G4S employee code of conduct with effect from 13 June 2006:

‘employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from giving expression to any ritual arising from them.’

The case will be heard by the CJEU later. Opinions of the AG are usually, but not always, followed by the Court.

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=179082&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=360758

This article is correct at 01/06/2016
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