Does the banning of a headscarf at work constitute direct religious discrimination?

No, held the CJEU in Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions (the full judgment is not available yet, only the press summary).

G4S in Belgium operated a policy of ‘neutrality’, banning all wearing of political, religious or similar signs. A Muslim employee announced she wanted to start wearing a headscarf; she was told she could not, and she was then dismissed.

The CJEU held that G4S’s policy did not amount to direct discrimination on grounds of religion because it prohibited all religious signs, so it was not treating one religion less favourably than another.

It also held that G4S’s rule introduced a difference in treatment which was indirectly based on religion, as Muslims are placed at a particular disadvantage. It held that an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality was a legitimate aim provided it applied only to customer-facing employees, and – more interestingly – left open the question of whether it would have been possible to redeploy Ms Achbite into a non- customer facing role (rather than dismiss her).

In an accompanying case, Bougnaoui and anor -v- Micropole SA the CJEU held that if a customer asks for a Muslim employee not to wear a headscarf, that is not a ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’.