Is it direct discrimination contrary to EU law, for an employer to have a policy prohibiting employees from wearing anything manifesting a religious, philosophical or political belief in the workplace, if that policy requires 'neutral' dress from all employees?
No, held the CJEU in IX v WABE & MH Muller v MJ.
The CJEU answered questions referred by German Labour Courts in two cases. WABE runs child day care centres, it had a policy prohibiting employees from displaying, in a manner visible to parents, children or third parties, any signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs. The policy was enforced against the Claimant who wore a headscarf for religious reasons, and also against another employee displaying a cross. The CJEU held that it was not direct discrimination for an employer to impose a policy requiring neutral dress in the workplace, where the policy is applied in a general and unconditional way. Even if the policy is capable of causing inconvenience to certain workers who observe religion-based clothing rules, it did not mean that the Claimant suffered a difference in treatment that was inextricably based on religion or belief as compared to other workers.
The CJEU also considered that such policies were capable of being justified in the context of indirect discrimination if the policy meets a genuine need of the employer. It also noted that dress policies that were limited to prohibiting only 'conspicuous' or 'large-scale' manifestations of a religion or belief (such as a headscarf) were likely to result in direct discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and so be unlawful.
Thanks to Ed McFarlane of Law at Work for preparing this case summary.