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This is a question that comes up repeatedly, and you may remember the case of a woman who wanted to wear a necklace with a cross on it, and fell foul of her employer – British Airways – uniform policy.  There have been others – a teacher who said she should be entitled to wear a hijab, a hospital worker whose case revolved around the wearing of a necklace with a cross on it, and many of these cases have been so strongly contested that they ended up in the highest courts in this country, or even in the European courts.

The European Court of Human Rights has recently made a decision on a case brought by a Muslim woman whose employment contract was not renewed because she insisted on wearing a headscarf.  The Court held that a hospital had not acted unlawfully.

The woman worked as a ‘social assistant’ in the hospital’s psychiatric unit in France.  She insisted on wearing the headscarf for religious reasons and claimed that her dismissal was contrary to Article 9 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which gives individuals a right to manifest their religion.

However, the right is not absolute and public bodies can justify departures from the general principle. In this case, the principle of secularism (separation of religion from the state) and the neutrality of public services justified such a departure.

Employers should note that any action will need to be justified and proportionate. Such Court decisions often depend upon their particular facts and employers should take specific advice and train staff to avoid flouting the law. If you think you may be in a similar situation, give me a call so that I can help you untangle this complex area of employment law.

 

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