One of three Ottawa Convention Centre employees locked out for not covering tattoos is back at work today.
Housekeeper Nyeme Williams was allowed to return to work yesterday, however two other workers were not granted access to the building until later in the day for an HR meeting. Williams wore a flesh-coloured sleeve over her tattoos.
"We've always wanted them to come back to work, but they have to adhere to the employee terms of employment," said convention centre spokesman Daniel Coates.
"Hopefully we can come up with a solution."
The two other workers, Daniel Caissie and Johnny St-Amour, whose jobs include moving equipment, such as tables, chairs and stagesn said it was too hot in the summer to do their jobs in long sleeves. They also say the policy is outdated and prejudiced.
"It took a long time for me to realize the actual psychological effects it was having on me," Caissie said.
"I realized ... that it was actually affecting my self esteem because it was making me feel — even outside of work — kind of ashamed about the fact that I have tattoos.”
He specified that none of his tattoos are lewd or offensive.
Coates told the CBC that the company wants to make sure it "projects a proper image,” adding that the policy is part of the conditions of employment, and that the employees were asked not to work on the floor until they adhere to those conditions.
"It is very specifically stated that any visible tattoos have to be covered up when on the floor," Coates said. "And it's a question of image and public service. We serve the public, and we want to make sure that we project a proper image."
He said the OCC is kept at an industry standard 22 degrees Celsius, and that it's therefore not an uncomfortable environment to work in.
Williams, a unionized housekeeper and chief griever, said she plans to file several grievances about the incident.
In general, the Human Rights Commission has found dress codes and appearance standards are at the discretion of the employer, however, recent court decisions in Ontario and Quebec have challenged the right of employers to require tattoos covered at work.
In 2012 an Ontario arbitrator declared tattoos were not just for “sailors, stevedores and strippers” any more, when he found that the Ottawa Hospital’s strict dress code requiring workers cover tattoos and remove piercings was too restrictive.
Employees were required to cover large, visible tattoos and remove any piercings that were not “minimal and conservative”. CUPE claimed the code was enforced was part of a “class system” where doctors were essentially able to dress however they liked, whereas other staff had to meet a specific corporate image.
The decision was consistent with a 2009 decision whene 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?
Does your organization have a tattoo policy? How did you develop and enforce it?
- 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.