Ideological Neutrality in the Workplace

07 Dec 2017

This note assesses cases C-158/15 Achbita and C-188/15 Bougnaoui decided by the Court of Justice of the European Union. These were the first cases dealing with religious discrimination under the Equal Treatment Directive 2000/43. Both cases concerned Muslim women wishing to express their religious beliefs while working in a private undertaking by wearing an Islamic headscarf. The Court held that the employees’ dismissal could not be justified by reference to clients’ prejudices against the headscarf. However, dismissal could be justified if pursued on the basis of a corporate policy of ideological neutrality which prohibited all visible religious, political and philosophical symbols. This note criticises the latter part of the Court’s decision for, inter alia, placing too much weight on an employer’s freedom to run its business in spite of the grave effects this has on employees’ fundamental right to manifest their beliefs at work.