Tattoo and piercing discrimination: the next human rights fight?

Tattoo and piercing discrimination: the next human rights fight?

Tattoo and piercing discrimination: the next human rights fight? The debate around tattoos in the workplace is still ongoing, but one Canadian woman wants to see tattoos and other body modification protected by the human rights code.
 
Edmonton-based Kendra Behringer claims she’s had a resume thrown out in front of her and other forms of discrimination, all because of her visible piercings. She’s launched a petition to have the Alberta Human Rights Act amended to include protection for people with body modifications such as piercings, tattoos.

Behringer told HRM that when she was looking for a customer service job many organizations had policies against visible piercings or non-natural looking dyed hair. She said the stigma against modifications such as piercings and tattoos was reducing as the practices become more mainstream.
 
“I’m trying to make the point that someone’s qualifications is what really matters,” she said. “Most people are worried it’s going to affect business but it won’t have the effect people think it will. No one is going to up and walk out of a store because their server has piercings or tattoos.”

Behringer claims that as long as body modifications don’t pose a health and safety risk on the job, they shouldn’t factor into an employer’s decision to hire.
 
“(People) could choose to get implants or a nose job and it wouldn’t affect their ability to get a job as long as it’s considered within the norm.”
 
Her petition has more than 500 signatures and she’s looking for a politician to sponsor her proposal, but lawyers say she’s unlikely to be successful. Companies can refuse to hire or fire non-unionized workers for any reason so long as it’s not connected to a human rights violation, according to Blaine Donais, president and founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute.
 
“Fairness is not a requirement and in fact employers can discriminate against people. What they can’t do is discriminate on the basis of certain prohibited grounds.”
 
Tattoos that are related to race or religion could fall under the protected grounds, but in general the courts have upheld employers’ rights to set a dress code as long. Some recent decisions have shown that a zero-tolerance policy that staff must cover all tattoos will not be upheld, especially if workers have to operate in hot temperatures where long sleeves would be uncomfortable or even dangerous.
 
Donais said there was a “slim to none” chance Ms. Behringer’s campaign would be successful.
 
Read more:
Tattooed worker returns but rules haven’t changed
Tattoo taboo: Can you ask workers to cover up?
 
29 Comments
  • Steve 2014-06-18 11:33:32 AM
    Seriously? If you've dyed your hair a colour that doesn't naturally occur in nature, installed enough metal that an MRI is impossible, and tattooed every square inch of your body, are you really saying you aren't trying to make a statement that some employers may not be willing to associate their business with?

    I have a right to hire people who best represent my company from a customer service AND an image standpoint. If your tattoos don't represent my desired image then you can bet I'm not going to hire you. You make your choice, and I make mine.

    There are things such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc that are not choices. I shouldn't be (and I'm not) allowed to discriminate on those grounds. But I AM fully within my rights to stand against your CHOICE to depart from a societal standard. You've chosen to make a statement through your personal appearance, and that is your right. Similarly, I have a right to choose to not have you make that statement on behalf of my company.
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  • F Turner 2014-06-18 12:12:16 PM
    It's not a matter of being a choice or not (Religion is a choice) but of being a human right or not. And it is also not a matter of making a statement or not (Males with long hair and females with short hair or a shaved head could also be considered to be making a statement). What this woman wants is that the courts protect tatoos and other body modifications as human rights. If this is accepted by the courts employers will not be able to discriminate against it.
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  • Steve 2014-06-18 1:25:50 PM
    I understand what she wants (ie. the courts to protect her choice of body modification as a Human Right). I just think it's not something that should be protected as a human right. I'd suggest that it should no more be a protected ground than my choice of hairstyle, political affilliation, or which car I drive. There are much more important and pressing issues than how a person with tattoos or piercings is treated.

    By the way, I'd also disagree that religion is a choice. Most (admittedly not all) people would say that they are born into a religion, and do not choose it.

    The over-arching question is really whether our society should see this as a protected human right. My opinion is that it should not.
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