The court ruled that employers could have a blanket ban on any 'political, philosophical or religious sign'

Employers will be able to ban staff from wearing ‘political, philosophical or religious’ symbols such as crosses, a European court has ruled, in a decision welcomed by right-wing politicians but criticised by some religious leaders.

The European Court of Justice ruled that employers are not allowed to target particular religions. But they are allowed to have a general policy forbidding the wearing of religious symbols.

The case was brought by two Muslim women, one in France and the other in Belgium, who had been fired from their jobs because they insisted on wearing the hijab (head covering).

The ECJ said: “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”

But the court also ruled that employers must have a blanket rule: they could not, for instance, ask a particular employee to remove a hijab simply because it was offending a customer.

François Fillon, a presidential candidate in this year’s French elections, said the ruling would be “a factor in cohesion and social peace”. Georg Pazderski, the Berlin leader of Germany’s populist party AfD, said: “The ECJ’s ruling sends out the right signal, especially for Germany.”

But the Conference of European Rabbis said the ruling suggested that faith communities were not welcome in Europe.

The barrister Neil Addison told the Catholic Herald that the law would affect Christians, Muslims and those of other faiths. He added: “I see no problems for Christians in this judgment; in fact it should help to ensure that dress codes are applied fairly to all believers.”

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2013 that a BA employee had been discriminated against when she was told to remove her cross. At the time, BA had no general policy in place.