Tattoo taboo: Can you ask workers to cover up?

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The decision was consistent with a 2011 decision, where an arbitrator struck down an Ontario Provincial Police policy requiring all 9,000 police to cover visible tattoos. The policy was considered too broad, but the organization has gone back to the drawing board to try to find some middle ground that might include banning face and neck tattoos.

In 2009 a Quebec judge found a daycare’s ban “rests on prejudices. Tattooing nowadays is a phenomenon that cuts across all levels of society,” Judge Jean Bouchard wrote. “If it was once associated with delinquents, that’s no longer the case.”

The daycare’s policy forced an employee with a tattoo of a butterfly or flower on her forearm or calf to wear pants or a long-sleeved shirt, even while working under a hot summertime sun – which the judge described as “ridiculous and outrageous”.

The daycare still has the right to prohibit inappropriate tattoos including those expressing violence.

Can you have a tattoo policy at your office?

  • Canadian’s Human Rights don’t protect employee’s rights to have and show tattoos, unless they are for religious or cultural reasons.
  • Your policy needs to be consistent for all genders and races, but can specify differences between roles. For example customer service staff might have to cover up where storeroom staff do not.
  • Asking someone to cover potentially offensive tattoos is acceptable, but if tested a broad-reaching policy could be found unreasonable in court.

Does your organization have a tattoo policy? How did you develop and enforce it?

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  • M_Web on 2013-08-13 8:08:33 AM

    When I worked for a municipality where there was a large (and vocal) senior community) we had a vacancy for the Public Greeter position (the person you first see when you enter City Hall to direct you to the right place). One of the applicants had a tattoo across her chest from sternum to throat, arm to arm the words "I HATE YOU." She wore a sundress to the interview which is how we knew that she had the tattoo. She was qualified, friendly etc., but there were 2 other applicants equally able so it came down to who won’t get the job. She didn't because of that tattoo.

  • L_Web on 2013-08-14 5:17:53 AM

    I totally agree about the content of the tattoo, if it's offensive, racist, discriminatory, it should be covered. We have a female staff member who has a lovely calla lily up the back of her neck to her hairline and it's beautiful. She also has a couple tiny ones at the ankle and the top of her foot. These are not offensive.....I wouldn't get a tattoo, but its a generational thing; both of my sons have the initials of their sons on their arm.

  • Ann on 2014-05-14 11:51:48 AM

    I work in a professional white collar workplace and visible tattoos are simply not considered appropriate -- even the ones that are generally acknowledged to be attractive.
    Yes, it is partially a class thing. But the human rights code does not protect against class discrimination (unless it is a form of race, gender, etc. discrimination).

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