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Discrimination: Religious Workplaces

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Under EU law, can an employer founded on the principles of a religion or belief dismiss a worker it requires to follow that religion of belief because of the employee's stance around that belief?

Only if there is an occupational requirement that is genuine, legitimate and justified, held the European Court of Justice in IR v JQ, answering questions from the Federal German Labour Court on the compatibility of German law on religion/belief discrimination with the EU Equal Treatment directive.

JQ was a Catholic manager in a Catholic charitable organisation. Under German law on freedom of religion/belief, this employer could require Catholic staff to follow Catholic doctrine. JQ was dismissed for remarrying after divorce. He argued he would not have been dismissed had he been of a different or no faith.

The CJEU held that where an employer treats employees differently by requiring those who hold its faith to act in line with it, this is only consistent with EU law, if, in a particular work context, there is a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement for the treatment, provided always that the treatment is proportionate.

Furthermore, if such an employer requires employees performing, for example, (non-religious) managerial duties to act in line with its ethos (i.e. treating them akin to priests in requiring them to follow teachings), then such employees must have legal remedies under EU law to test the justification for action against them. It would be for the referring court to ascertain whether the provisions of German law at issue can be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with the Directive.

Thanks to Ed McFarlane of Deminos HR for preparing this case summary.