In recent years there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of employees taking legal action against employers for discrimination relating to their appearance. Claimants have only succeeded where their appearance has been linked to a protected attribute.
The Human Rights Commission in Australia states that an Employer can legally set rules regarding the appearance of employees in the workplace. However, it is important to ensure that any such rules do not amount to discrimination.
Discrimination is against the law when people are treated unfairly because of a personal attribute that is protected by law, including race, sex and gender identity.
Discrimination can happen when employers put in place conditions or requirements which appear to treat everyone fairly but which actually disadvantage some people because of a personal attribute they share.
An example: Say you have a policy to refuse to hire any worker with visible tattoos, even for roles that involved no customer contact. You could find yourself liable for racial discrimination if a Maori job applicant who had a tattoo for reasons connected to his ethnic origin was not hired because of his tattoo.
Some lawyers in Victoria are of the opinion that tattoos may be considered a physical feature and protected by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. This has yet to be tested in court.
The Equal Opportunity Commission of SA web site currently states that “it is not discrimination to ask staff to cover tattoos if they are serving customers.”
“You can set a reasonable standard of dress and appearance that suits your industry, as long as you do not discriminate. A dress code is discriminatory if it treats one group of people less favourably than another, and it is unreasonable to do so”. Interestingly the EOC states that asking men to wear ties and women to wear skirts may be sex discrimination
A case for Starbucks in America hit a snag when a male was sacked for having tattoos. The issue was that female workers also had tattoos and kept their jobs.
Female worker tattoos are generally considered “less offensive” because they are usually “more cute”, for example flowers. Employers seeking to allow these tattoos will need to outline in policies what their definition of “offensive” is.
In the UK, a similar ruling is found in their Equality Act 2010. In this Act, Tattoos and body piercings are specifically excluded from the definition of ‘severe disfigurement’. In the UK primary teachers must have their tattoos covered, Metro police are banned from getting any visible tattoos and required to register all current tattoos.
In 2013, Air new Zealand was forced to public defend its rejection if a job applicant because she held a Maori tattoo, saying that it could frighten or intimidate travellers. The debate escalated into a national discussion with Politicians weighing in. The tattoo depicted her heritage (via a traditional ta moko tattoo) and her children. Although the airlines stance was deemed legal, it led to an internal review of the airlines standards for grooming and visible tattoos.
Tattoos are on the rise
Tattoo is a growing trend in Australia.
In the US more than one in three gen-nexters (18-25 year olds) has one or more tattoos.
Conversely just as many youngsters are getting them removed.
Two fifths of US thirty-something’s are estimated to have a tattoo.
In the UK one in five Britons has a tattoo according to The British association of dermatologists.
Those looking to remove them for improving job prospects are mostly the not-so-proud owners of wrist and neck tattoos.
Currently tattoo removal requires anywhere from six to 15 treatments and cost between $180 and $300 per session. The process is painful. Practitioners are often only able to remove 95% of the tattoo depending on the age and color.
A study by Andrew Timing while at St Andrews University in England found that Words like “untidy”, “repugnant” and unsavoury were all used to describe perception clients were likely to gain of the organisation if someone decorated in this way was hired.
Consensus from a poll on job seekers was that, unless you are in a very creative field, it is best to cover up tattoos during an in interview and definitely remove nose rings.
A common lament from young job seekers with visible tattoos, regardless of how good they are at their job, is the anti-tattoo corporate policies within large stores. On the flip side, many of these job seekers have taken this as motivation for higher education – and getting their tattoos removed once completed.
If it is very important for you to be employed at a place where showing tattoos are acceptable, then leaving then uncovered might be wiser.
That way you can gauge whether your particular tattoo is going to be a concern.
Many people employing gen-nexters are over the age of 50.
In their days, those with tattoos were the rough and tough sort of people.
A large majority had been in prison or were mentally ill.
Some high end retail stores surveyed stated that they would not hire a sales person with arm and hand tattoos. They stated that they have an image to uphold, and although many owners liked tattoos, they believed that many of their customers would not. They also saw a sales person’s role as a stepping stone into management and could not see a manager with tattoos being taken seriously.
What are your thoughts?