Tattoo tolerance: hospital can’t ask nurses to cover up

Tattoo tolerance: hospital can’t ask nurses to cover up

Tattoo tolerance: hospital can’t ask nurses to cover up

Tattoos aren’t just for “sailors, stevedores and strippers” any more, according to an Ontario arbitrator – they’re also for nurses.

The Ottawa Hospital’s strict dress code requiring workers cover tattoos and remove piercings was struck down this week when arbitrator Lorne Slotnick said that while there may be some cases where patients were uncomfortable with staff members’ tattoos, the dress code was too restrictive.

“Anyone who has taken a stroll on a summer day knows that tattoos are no longer confined to sailors, stevedores and strippers,” Slotnick said.

Employees were required to cover large, visible tattoos and remove any piercings that were not “minimal and conservative”. Shorts, jeans and shorter skirts were all also banned.

The hospital defended its strict rules by citing a 2012 study that found patients reacted less favourably to tattooed and pierced female medical workers – although the participants had no similar dislike for men with such body modifications. Hospital senior vice-president of professional practice and chief nursing executive Gina Rodger linked the potentially negative first impression with stress levels and health care outcomes, however Slotnick found no evidence to support the link.

CUPE also took the stance that how 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 is consistent with other similar cases, including a 2011 decision striking down Ontario Provincial Police policy requiring all 9,000 police to cover visible tattoos. The policy was considered too broad, but the organization hoped to try to find some middle ground that might include banning face and neck tattoos.

Outside Ontario, in 2009 a Quebec judge found a daycare’s ban rested “on prejudices. Tattooing nowadays is a phenomenon that cuts across all levels of society,” Judge Jean Bouchard wrote.

In general, bans requiring staff to cover offensive tattoos or those with violent images have been upheld, especially in customer or public facing roles.



  • An Expat 2013-01-21 1:20:58 PM
    Those that sport tattoos are pardon the pun, effectively wearing their poor judgement on their sleeves.

    In spite of what the tattoo artist may say about longevity of the inks they use and that they have used sterile products, the fact remains, those who acquire tattoos risk contracting disease during application and will have incredibly ugly green scars in their elder years.

    It's like smoking - who does not know it will shorten your life? Both indicators of poor judgement.

    In any publicly funded service situation, such as a hospital, I reserve the right to refuse care from someone who judgement or personality is impaired.
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  • Aim 2013-01-24 7:12:25 AM
    If you were dying and the only doctor that was able to attend to your medical care happened to have a full sleeve of tattoos. What would you do? Refuse care and die? What if that doctor happened to have the same number of diplomas, publications, years of research, patients they've saved, as the number of tattoos they had?? What if they had more? You'd still refuse care?
    Some tattoos have meaning and are comparable to a beautiful ring or necklace you may wear proudly. Your ignorance is the reason the world is the way it is.
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