In a landmark decision, the Austrian Supreme Court (OGH) decided that preventing an employee from wearing a veil in the workplace, or even firing a woman because of her veil, is not discriminatory.
The OGH said in its ruling that a veil is likely to hinder communication with customers and therefore, employers have reason to dismiss an employee whose clothing prevents such communication.
The ruling is a reaction to a case brought to one of Austria’s lower courts in which a woman was fired because of her veil.
The woman, who already wore an Abaya and a headscarf, had approached her employer to tell him that she wanted to wear a veil to work for religious reasons. Within a week’s time, the same woman had been fired, reported The Independent.
In addition to her claim that she had been unfairly dismissed, the female employee told officials that her employer had made discriminatory remarks about her, claiming her dress was a “disguise” and that she was experimenting with ethnic clothing.
The lower court where the case had been first introduced decided that it was likely that the woman had been discriminated against, but there was not enough evidence to support a ruling.
The court therefore sent the case to the Austrian Supreme Court where it came to the conclusion that while the remarks the employer made to his female employee were discriminatory, the act of firing her was not.
This ruling has come during a period in which the presence of Islamic veils is heavily debated in Europe. Just last week the International Business Times reported that the United Arab Emirates issued an advisory urging its citizens to be aware of burqa bans in European countries as tensions in the region continue to escalate.
France, the first country to ban Islamic veils, now fines those who wear them in public. Other countries such as Belgium, Italy and Switzerland are set to follow suit with similar laws.