Ebrahimian v France: ECHR upholds decision to ban headscarves for public sector workers
Employment Law solicitor, Nicola Robson, takes a look back at the decision in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case, Ebrahimian v France, and what it means for employers.
Ms Ebrahimian was a Muslim recruited on a fixed-term contract as a social worker. She wore a headscarf for religious reasons.
She wore the headscarf during her interview and while working. The headscarf covered her hair, neck and ears but left her face uncovered.
She was informed that her contract wouldn’t be renewed.
This was on account of her refusal to remove her headscarf in breach of hospital rules. These rules included the requirement for employees to observe religious neutrality.
The hospital rules stem from the French Government’s ban on public employees from wearing ‘conscious religious symbols’ displaying their religious beliefs at work.
Ms Ebrahimian raised a claim in France. After exhausting the French legal process, she appealed to the ECHR.
She argued that the non-renewal of her contract was a breach of her right to manifest her religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Her complaint was rejected.
It was accepted that her Article 9 rights were engaged and there had been a prima facie infringement.
But that infringement was justified on the basis of the principle of neutrality. So there had been no violation of any convention right.
What this means for you
Although this case happened in France, it will be of interest to employers in the UK.
The ECHR has confirmed that, even though a rule may infringe on an individual's rights, it can, in some cases, be justified.
Each case will turn on its specific facts. This case concerned the French Government’s ‘secular State’.
But you may recall similar cases, such as Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd, where there was justification for preventing an employee from manifesting their religious beliefs at work based on health and safety grounds.
Employers need to be considerate to employees' religious beliefs. But if they’re unable to accommodate a particular manifestation of that belief in the workplace, cases such as this one show that the employer’s behaviour can sometimes be justified.
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