Company dress code policies and religion in France


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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently upheld a 2010 French law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public spaces. A week earlier, the French Supreme Court ruled that employers may be able to insist on the removal of veils in the workplace. Read about the implications of both decisions on employers.

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Company dress code policies and religion in France

  1. 1.   Company dress code policies and religion in France: a new piece to the puzzle Publication Date: 8 July 2014 | Author(s): Anne-Laure Périès Member Firm(s): Capstan Country: France The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently upheld a 2010 French law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public spaces. On 1 July 2014 (SAS c/ France, 43835/11), the ECHR confirmed that the ban imposed by French law can be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the preservation of conditions for “living together” as an element of the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. Therefore, the challenged restriction can be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society”. A recent decision delivered by the French Supreme Court has shown that employers may be able to insist on the removal of veils in the workplace. In a plenary session held on 25 June 2014, the Supreme Court decided that a daycare employee (“Baby Loup”) who refused to remove her Islamic veil was rightly dismissed by her employer for gross misconduct, having infringed the internal rules of the workplace. The internal rules stated that the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion for each member of the staff ”cannot obstruct the respect of secularity and neutrality which apply in the carrying out of the activities of the kindergarten on its premises, in its annex and while accompanying the children outside the kindergarten”. The Supreme Court decided that the specific circumstances of the case were important: namely that the employer was a small association, with only 18 employees, who were or could be in direct contact with the children and with their parents. The judges therefore took the view that the imposed restriction to the freedom of showing religious affiliation, as stated in the internal rules, did not have a general character. They considered this restriction to be justified in that it was specific, warranted by the nature of the work tasks performed by the association’s employees and in proportion with the objectives of the association. Bearing in mind the reasoning applied to this decision, it will not necessarily apply to employers in different circumstances. Indeed, by making a concrete assessment of this kind, the Supreme Court has not provided any guidelines for French companies as a whole, considering that the kindergarten in question carries out specific activities in a specific sector. In France, an employer can ban employees from displaying “ostentatious” religious symbols in two specific cases: State/ public services: an absolute secularity and neutrality is required, which prevents employees from demonstrating their religious beliefs, notably through their dress code at work; this
  2. 2.     ban also applies to private companies which manage a public service (but not to a kindergarten which only has a mission of “general interest”, according to the Baby Loup decision) Health and safety: an employer can restrict religious freedom at work in company internal rules, if the restrictions are justified by the nature of the task and if they are necessary to protect the health of the employee, his colleagues or third parties. In addition to the two previous cases, it would be possible for an employer to impose a certain dress code through internal rules as long as any restrictions to religious freedom are strictly defined and limited to the employees and to the tasks which justify such restrictions, such as being in direct contact with children or a “vulnerable”/impressionable public. Given the limited scope that exists for implementing measures on such a controversial subject through internal rules (which are subject to checks by labour inspectors and regulated by administrative courts in France), employers are encouraged to draft non-compulsory diversity policies and to organise appropriate training courses, including mediation activities, for their managers. Taken from the Ius Laboris Knowledge Base: About Ius Laboris Ius Laboris is an alliance of law firms offering employers cross-border employment and pensions law advice. It has 1,300 specialist HR lawyers in over 150 cities and 44 countries. Ius Laboris offers access to the best local HR law experts in one global team with 20% more ranked employment lawyers (Chambers & Partners, November 2013) than any other global HR legal services organisation. Further, Ius Laboris has 50% more recommended lawyers than its nearest rival in a recent survey in PLC's employment law guide. Clients include many household names as well as multinational companies in all sectors ranging from energy, retail and technology to pharmaceuticals. For more information on Ius Laboris, please visit