A neutral dress code does not constitute a discrimination based on religion

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Date:
11 May 2010

<p>On 27 April 2010, the Labour Tribunal of Antwerp pronounced a judgement regarding the question whether a company may impose a neutral dress code on its employees and whether it may ask its employees not to wear a headscarf at work.</p>

On 27 April 2010, the Labour Tribunal of Antwerp pronounced a judgement regarding the question whether a company may impose a neutral dress code on its employees and whether it may ask its employees not to wear a headscarf at work.

In the case at hand, a female employee working as a receptionist suddenly expressed a wish to wear a headscarf during working hours. The employer refused this on the basis of the company’s dress code which prohibited employees from wearing external signs of their religious, philosophical or political conviction. When conciliation between the parties proved impossible, the employer terminated the concerned employee’s contract.

 

The employee claimed that this dismissal constituted discrimination based on her religion and thus claimed damages (on top of the notice indemnity paid by the employer) equal to six months of salary.

 

Firstly, the Labour Tribunal judged that a dress code imposing an obligation to wear neutral clothing does not constitute a direct differentiation on the basis of religion. According to the tribunal, external signs of a religion, such as the headscarf, do not fall under the criterion “religion” that is protected by the Belgian anti-discrimination laws.

 

A headscarf prohibition may however constitute an indirect differentiation. Yet, this indirect differentiation can be justified by a policy of neutrality within the company. According to the tribunal, a prohibition on wearing visible signs characterizing a political, philosophical or religious conviction is objectively and reasonably justified by a concern to promote and safeguard harmonious collaboration and interaction between the employees themselves and between employees and clients on the other hand.

 

The tribunal attached a lot of importance to the fact that the rule of neutrality was incorporated in the company’s work rules and in a diversity policy.

 

The judgement of the Labour Tribunal of Antwerp may still be appealed. 

On 27 April 2010, the Labour Tribunal of Antwerp pronounced a judgement regarding the question whether a company may impose a neutral dress code on its employees and whether it may ask its employees not to wear a headscarf at work.

 

In the case at hand, a female employee working as a receptionist suddenly expressed a wish to wear a headscarf during working hours. The employer refused this on the basis of the company’s dress code which prohibited employees from wearing external signs of their religious, philosophical or political conviction. When conciliation between the parties proved impossible, the employer terminated the concerned employee’s contract.

 

The employee claimed that this dismissal constituted discrimination based on her religion and thus claimed damages (on top of the notice indemnity paid by the employer) equal to six months of salary.

 

Firstly, the Labour Tribunal judged that a dress code imposing an obligation to wear neutral clothing does not constitute a direct differentiation on the basis of religion. According to the tribunal, external signs of a religion, such as the headscarf, do not fall under the criterion “religion” that is protected by the Belgian anti-discrimination laws.

 

A headscarf prohibition may however constitute an indirect differentiation. Yet, this indirect differentiation can be justified by a policy of neutrality within the company. According to the tribunal, a prohibition on wearing visible signs characterizing a political, philosophical or religious conviction is objectively and reasonably justified by a concern to promote and safeguard harmonious collaboration and interaction between the employees themselves and between employees and clients on the other hand.

 

The tribunal attached a lot of importance to the fact that the rule of neutrality was incorporated in the company’s work rules and in a diversity policy.

 

The judgement of the Labour Tribunal of Antwerp may still be appealed.