Tattoos and piercings are more popular than ever. A 2015 study by the British Association of Dermatologists stated that one in five people are tattooed. But what are the employment law implications?
Only a few decades ago tattoos and piercings used to be associated with gangs and delinquencies. Even though the stereotype has now disappeared, discrimination against tattooed or pierced individuals is still present.
Tattoos and piercings are often viewed as a statement of identity. Is there protection from employment law against management decisions that are anti-tattoo or anti-piercing?
At work everyone usually must follow the company dress code. In some artistic fields, tattoos or piercings can increase someone’s chances of being hired, but individuality is not compatible with certain professions. Most companies have strict dress codes which often prohibit visible tattoos or piercings. These could be seen by a client as being unprofessional or even intimidating, which proves that the aforementioned stereotype has not been completely erased. By creating adequate legal protection, the preconceived idea of the aggressive tattooed and pierced criminal could probably disappear.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a tattoo on his left arm. Even though he covers it up for conventional meetings, the Prime Minister does not hesitate to show his tattooed arm during less formal events. Many people view the politician’s tattoo as a new, youthful, and more modern manner of going about with politics.
In the UK the main employment laws protecting people against discrimination are discrimination law and unfair dismissal law.
Discrimination covers disability and religiosity, among other things. Disability includes those with disfigurements but it does not provide protection for tattooed or pierced workers.
Unfair dismissal and disciplinaries for reasons relating to appearance could fall within the ACAS guidelines on dress code. They state that dress codes should apply equally to men and women. Employers should consult their staff members and reach an agreement that can then be written down. Piercings are slightly different from tattoos as they can be removed more easily. Thus, depending on the type of work, an employer could ask his employee to remove his piercings for safety or policy reasons.
If a tattoo has a religious or cultural significance it could be argued that there is a racial or religious angle. In that case, there is a balancing exercise to be carried out in order to satisfy the ‘indirect discrimination’ test, though this test is really quite employer-friendly. We are not aware of any caselaw on the subject, though.
Many companies have strict dress codes which often prohibit visible tattoos or piercings. These could be seen by the client as being unprofessional or even intimidating, which proves that the stereotype has not been completely erased.
On balance, it is quite hard to imagine a situation where someone would be within their employment law rights to complain about being asked to cover up a tattoo or piercing.
By Lily Wilde
Image used courtesy of Clara , licenced under CC