The Labour court ruled on a company's neutrality policy

26 March 2024 2 min read

By Cornelia Lundberg and Barbara Angene

At a glance

  • The Labour Court (Court) ruled on a case concerning a security company's neutrality policy in December 2023.
  • The employer’s ban of visible religious symbols in the workplace was not considered discriminatory by the Court.
  • The policy was justified by reference to the employers right to manage work, recognised under Swedish law.

Background

In December 2023, the Court ruled on a security company’s policy of neutrality. This policy prohibited the display of religious symbols in the workplace, which had implications for a metro security guard who wore an Islamic headscarf. She alleged that the company had discriminated against her based on her gender and religion.

The Court decided that the policy was not discriminatory, referencing the employer’s right to manage work, a right recognised under Swedish law. The Court also concluded that the rule applied universally to all employees and therefore does not amount to direct discrimination. However, such a policy could be deemed indirect discrimination if it effectively disadvantages individuals of a specific religion, unless it is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

The security company maintained that the policy was designed to minimise the risk of threats and violence in the workplace, an aim the Court deemed legitimate. Although the company was unable to provide evidence that the symbols posed a measurable risk, the Court ruled that the ban was reasonable and proportionate in addressing safety risks.

The belief that symbols associated with politics, philosophy, and religion could heighten the risk of threats and violence against metro security guards was deemed to be justified. The investigation did not identify a less intrusive measure to mitigate this risk, leading to the conclusion that the prohibition of such symbols was reasonable to ensure the safety of employees and others. Consequently, the Court found no evidence of indirect discrimination.

Takeaways

The Court’s decision offers clarity on the circumstances under which internal guidelines on religious symbols in the workplace are non-discriminatory and therefor enforceable. Specifically, a prohibition on religious symbols can amount to indirect discrimination. To avoid such discrimination, the employer must ensure that the ban is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

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