Religion and the workplace is a big topic these days on both sides of the Atlantic, with the issue of religious liberty in the workplace bedeviling the courts. In the US employers are required to accommodate the right of religious employees to wear religion-required clothes, tattoos or symbols as long as this does not cause an undue hardship to the employer.
On April 29, 2012 we discussed the increase in the number of Muslims filing charges and lawsuits alleging employment discrimination on the basis of religion, and noted that some typical workplace-discrimination claims include forbidding women from wearing the traditional head scarf or hijab. In fact, our blog on August 8th dealing with the case of a Muslim employee who was required to wear a headscarf was entitled “When Will Employers Learn The Law Regarding Religious Dress?”
We reported on September 3rd that that a group of four cases from the UK were coming before the European Court Of Human Rights involving practicing Christians who allege employment discrimination in violation of articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights – two lost their jobs because they refused to remove a cross or crucifix; the third objected to being required to perform civil-partnership ceremonies; and the last was fired because his religious beliefs prevented him from counseling same-sex couples. The decisions are pending.
Now, in what may be a first, a German court has fined a dentist who refused to employ a veiled Muslim woman solely because she declined to remove her headscarf, or hijab, holding that he breached the Equal Treatment Act. The court ruled that the headscarf was not optional, but a required expression of religious belief.
Eventually, the courts in the US and abroad will arrive at a concensus which balances religious liberty with the legitimate right of employers to exercise at least a minimal amount of control over the workplace.