European Court of Justice offers clarification of EU Law relating to employment practices in religious institutions


19 October, 2018

A recent case before the European Court of Justice considered whether, pursuant to EU Law, an employer founded on the principles of a religion or belief can dismiss a worker it requires to follow that religion of belief because of the employee's stance around that belief.

In IR v JQ the ECJ held that it could only do so if there is an occupational requirement that is genuine, legitimate and justified.

JQ was a Catholic manager employed by a Catholic charitable organisation. Under domestic German law on freedom of religion/belief, this employer was permitted to require Catholic staff to follow Catholic doctrine. JQ was dismissed for remarrying after divorce and brought a claim before the courts arguing he would not have been dismissed had he been of a different or no faith.

The ECJ held that where an employer treats employees differently by requiring those who hold its faith to act in line with it, it would only be consistent with EU law if there is a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement for the treatment, provided always that the treatment is proportionate. Additionally, if such an employer requires employees performing duties unconnected to any religious aspect of the employer's practice to act in line with its ethos, then such employees must have legal remedies under EU law to test the justification for action against them.

In essence, it is for the domestic court to ascertain whether the provisions of domestic at issue can be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with European Law.

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