European Court of Justice Ban on Islamic Headscarves at Work
The EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), has ruled that employers can ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols. In a decision regarding the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work, the European court of justice in Luxembourg ruled that headscarves could be banned, but only as part of a general policy barring all religious and political symbols.
It ruled that a company’s wish to project a neutral image was legitimate and followed a general internal policy, banning political, philosophical or religious symbols.
The case was referred to the ECJ by the Belgian courts and considered whether a receptionist for the Belgian branch of the security company G4S, was unfairly dismissed for refusing to take off her scarf. The company said she had broken unwritten rules prohibiting religious symbols. The court found that G4S had a company policy regarding the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs. It found that the policy treated all employees in the same way by requiring them to dress neutrally.
This ruling, which is much more subtle than a clear “ban” is likely to generate confusion about which religious symbols can and cannot be worn at work. Indeed, some legal experts have already suggested that the ruling contradicts a previous ruling from the European court of human rights (ECHR) that allowed crosses to be worn at work!
The ruling has prompted a flurry of responses from various religious groups. The Conference of European Rabbis, which comprises 700 Jewish leaders across Europe, said Europe was sending a clear message that its faith communities were no longer welcome. However, the National Secular Society in the UK has welcomed the ruling, saying that if a ban is founded on a general company policy of religious and political neutrality, and applied equally to all, it cannot constitute ‘less favourable treatment’.
Employers would be ill-advised to respond to this ruling too quickly. Policies stipulating religious neutrality must be proportionate and set against the context in which the organisation is operating.
Do you have a driving policy which takes account of using mobiles phones?
Much has been reported in the press that the Government has increased the penalties for drivers using hand-held mobile phones to £200 and six penalty points on their licence. If a driver has held their licence for less than 2 years’ then it will be lost.
In addition, the driver risks prosecution for careless or dangerous driving if they are involved in a collision or poor driving that can be attributed to using mobile phone. Research has shown that a driver’s reaction time when using a mobile phone can be worse than if they were driving under the influence of alcohol.
But how does this affect employers? They can face prosecution for causing or permitting mobile-phone-related offences by providing hands-free phone kits in company cars for staff to use. The provision of a hands-free kit effectively holds the employer responsible if an employee feels obliged to make or receive calls in the car and in doing so, uses their handheld device to make the call.
Employers should ensure they have clear written policies on the use of mobile phones at work. It is vital that any mobile phone policy states that operating a mobile phone whilst driving reduces concentration and increases the likelihood of an accident and that it is a criminal offence in certain circumstances. The policy should apply irrespective of whether the employee uses a Company-provided mobile phone or their own personal mobile phone and irrespective of whether they are driving a Company car or their own car.
Policies should state that employees are completely prohibited from using a hand-held mobile phone or similar hand-held electronic device whilst driving as part of their job duties, whether this is to make or receive telephone calls, send or read text or image/picture messages, send or receive facsimiles or to access the internet or e-mail. It should also state that if an employee is discovered contravening this rule, they will face serious disciplinary action under the Company’s disciplinary procedure and may also constitute gross misconduct and could render you liable to summary dismissal.
Maybe it’s time to dust off that phone policy and take advice!