Can headscarves be part of an office dress code?

By: Jane Crosby

Date: 27 March 2017

Can headscarves be part of an office dress code?A new European court case has revisited the issue of office dress codes. There was extensive coverage last year about the woman who was required by an agency to wear heels while she was working as a temporary receptionist. When the woman arrived for work wearing flat shoes, she was asked to go home and change into heels. She refused and was sent home without pay. She set up a petition and as a result the agency was forced to revise its dress codes.

Now another case has hit the headlines about dress codes but for difference reasons. Recently the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that employers can, in certain circumstances, legally ban the wearing of headscarves.

Testing the rules on headscarves

The background to this case is that the ECJ considered whether an employer's decision to dismiss a female Muslim employee for wearing a headscarf because of an objection by a customer was discriminatory and whether there was a genuine occupational requirement.

Asma Bougnaoui was a design engineer who was dismissed from the IT consultancy firm Micropole after a customer complained that his staff felt uncomfortable while she was on site because of her headscarf.

Micropole had previously made it clear that, due to the customer-facing nature of her role, she might not be able to wear her headscarf. When the company asked her to remove it, she refused and the company dismissed her.

Taking legal action

Ms Bougnaoui's initial claim in the Paris courts was unsuccessful so she brought an appeal in the European courts.

The European courts found that her dismissal was direct discrimination and could not be justified under the ground of "genuine and determining occupational requirement" because it was the subjective view of a customer.

However, the judgment also said that a uniform policy was allowed in principle provided that it did not target particular religious groups and applied to everyone.

The case does not allow employers to adopt a policy to ban Islamic headscarves without just cause. Even if there is a neutral dress code policy employers should be careful how they apply it.

If employers do decide to have a strict dress code in place they must have a justifiable reason and take advice before they implement it.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2017 Jane Crosby at law firm Hart Brown.