On March 14, 2017, the European Court of Justice issued decisions in two cases addressing the delicate legal and political issue of wearing signs of religious belief at work.
Most media outlets and commentators who assessed the decisions focused on the court's acknowledgment that employers may, under certain circumstances, prohibit employees from wearing Islamic headscarves. Such bans in companies' internal regulations were deemed not to constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief.
From a legal point of view, however, it must be noted that the recent decisions were very balanced. Based on the decisions, employers with employees in the European Union may want to do the following:
implement internal dress neutrality rules (in accordance with local legal requirements applicable to workplace regulations); provide justification that the policy decision is actuated by a legitimate aim, which should extend neutrality to all signs of political, philosophical, or religious beliefs; and ensure that the means of achieving that aim are appropriate, necessary (especially for workers who...