France headscarf ban
Europe's top human rights court has upheld France's ban on religious symbols in public institutions.Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

The EU's top legal counsel, Juliane Kokott, has said that companies can impose dress codes that ban religious clothing. The European Court of Justice's advocate general issued the opinion, saying that employers can legally ban workers from wearing headscarves, crucifixes and other religious clothing.

Such dress codes are legal in the EU as long as they apply to all faiths and political views equally, she said. Kokott's opinion usually gives a strong indication of how Europe's top court will eventually rule in the case of security firm G4S, which fired a Belgian Muslim receptionist who wanted to cover her head.

Kokott, in her opinion, said that the firm did not breach EU anti-discrimination laws. She said that G4S was right in firing Samira Achbita after she went against internal uniform policy, by announcing that she would start wearing a headscarf at work.

She said the company had a right to a "policy of strict religious and ideological neutrality. There is nothing in the present case to indicate that an individual was 'treated less favourably,'" Kokott wrote.

"A company rule such as that operated by G4S could just as easily affect a male employee of Jewish faith who comes to work wearing a kippah, or a Sikh who wishes to perform his duties in a turban, or male or female employees of a Christian faith who wish to wear a clearly visible crucifix or a T-shirt bearing the slogan 'Jesus is great' to work," continued Ms Kokott.

There is also no obligation for G4S to find her a back-office job or to introduce a co-ordinated headscarf into its uniform code as such a move would "undermine" the company's policy, she added. The issue of whether a receptionist's job can be performed just as well with or without a headscarf, Kokott said, does not stop such policies from being implemented.

"While an employee cannot 'leave' his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability 'at the door' upon entering his employer's premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace," she said.

She dismissed claims that banning headscarves would stop Muslim women from finding jobs and integrating into society, highlighting the fact that Achbita had worked for G4S for three years before deciding to wear the headscarf.

Headscarves remain a controversial issue in Europe

The donning of headscarves in Europe, and even the hijab, has been a controversial issue in Europe. In France, where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law, a ban on headscarves and other 'conspicuous' religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004.

In contrast, last year, Germany's top court threw out a ban on headscarves for state school teachers.