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Jul 7, 2014

Judging books by their covers

Are you rejecting candidates with piercings and visible tattoos?

By Todd Humber

When I was a teenager, I really wanted a jean jacket. (Hey, it was the 1980s, don’t judge.) But my parents wouldn’t let me have one. My mom was a teacher and, in her eyes, kids who wore jean jackets seemed to misbehave more than those who wore corduroys. (Hey, I said it was the ‘80s.)

The point is there’s always been a stereotype associated with the way we look — the way we dress, how we style our hair and whether or not we have piercings or tattoos.

The photo on page one of the July 14 issue of Canadian HR Reporter features Kendra Behringer, a 24-year-old Edmonton woman who has started a petition to make “body modification” — such as piercings and tattoos — a protected ground of discrimination under human rights law in Alberta. Behringer has 22 piercings above the neck and claims to have had her resumé thrown in the trash — right in front of her — because of her appearance.

I don’t have any piercings or tattoos — they’re not my cup of tea. And I totally understand why people find them uncomfortable. Growing up, I didn’t really know anyone with tattoos — I always associated them with criminals. Maybe the odd military person as well but, for the most part, tattoos signified one thing to me as a child: You were probably a bad seed and I should probably cross to the other side of the street.

But those days are long gone. Now, it seems more surprising to meet someone who doesn’t have a tattoo. (Maybe today’s “rebels” are the ones who choose to remain ink-free?) Pick a random sampling of individuals and you’re going to find more than just pierced ears. 

Body modification is a form of expression, not a sign the person is a deviant, and it’s something employers shouldn’t be taking into account when making a hiring decision. There have been rulings already on this front.

Back in 2009, Canadian Employment Law Today covered a case out of Quebec where a daycare banned employees from having visible tattoos.

One of the employees at the daycare had a dragon tattoo on her shoulder. She filed a grievance and a court ultimately sided with her — finding the ban was based on prejudices and stereotypes of people with tattoos. The judge pointed out tattoos are more common “in all levels of society” and employers shouldn’t be passing judgment on someone who has body art.

But the court did identify one limit — saying the employer could require inappropriate tattoos, depicting violence or other tasteless designs, to be covered up.

In 2013, we covered a similar case in Canadian Labour Reporter where the Ottawa Hospital attempted to cover up large, visible tattoos and excessive piercings. An arbitrator, while conceding it wasn’t a human rights issue, shot down that policy.

“Aside from the personal opinions of its senior managers, the hospital has provided no evidence for its rationale that there is a link between health-care outcomes and the new rules it has imposed,” said the arbitrator. “The hospital has not shown that there is any legitimate reason for the employer to control the exposure of tattoos and piercings to the extent the dress code does. Where no harm can be shown to either patients or employees or the hospital itself, the restrictions are an infringement of the employees’ right to present themselves as they see fit.”

Both those rulings seem reasonable and are hard to argue with — regardless of your personal views on tattoos and piercings. Over the years, the number of protected grounds under human rights have expanded with family status being the new kid on the block.

If employers continue to throw out the resumés of applicants solely because of a tattoo or piercing they find objectionable, it’s not a stretch to think Behringer’s petition to add body modification as a protected human rights ground could find a favourable ear. We’ve already heard arbitrators and courts frown on blanket policies.

So, while it’s far too late for me to get a jean jacket — the urge, not to mention the fashion, is gone — it’s time employers stopped judging books by their covers. There’s way too much talent under all that ink and nose rings to ignore.

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When you put on a controversial cover, expect to be judged by it
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 9:31:00 AM
When people get (and more importantly, display at job interviews) tattoos or piercings, they are purposely making a bold statement that they know will get attention — much of it unfavourable. That seems to be their objective: They want to be noticed and perceived as "out there" and anti-establishment. So they shouldn't be surprised if that is exactly the reaction they get from hiring managers. People should consider this before "body modification" -- go ahead and get your tattoos and piercings, but be prepared for challenges in the job market.
Judging books by their covers
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 11:31:00 AM
Tasteful tattoos which can be covered up in the workplace if necessary are one thing, multiple visible piercings are another. Many private sector companies are still very conservative and perception to clients and stakeholders is extremely important. If you choose to seek a career in one of these companies, you should be prepared to reflect a business professional appearance.
Judging books by their covers
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 5:34:00 PM by Peter Karahalios
One of the key issues is that tattoos (not sure about piercings) mean many things to many people. To some, a tattoo is an art form, to others, it is a statement while to others again, it is a memento. This holds true as much for those who send the message, as for those who perceive it. On the perceiving side, if we look at the issue through the public-versus-private sector-employer optic, the public sector is traditionally much more permissive than the private sector, and not always for the right reasons. It is also not necessarily always positive and diversity is not always a productive variable…
All this being said, I cannot help but wonder about someone who feels so strongly about something in their life that they are compelled to have it permanently tattooed on their body for all to see…
I understand that a tattoo is a form of expression but even if there was a logic to having it protected under human rights, inasmuch that it represents freedom to express an opinion, there is equally a welcome logic in keeping one’s opinion to oneself, especially if it holds no social pertinence for anyone but the bearer of the opinion.
Hate tattoos but ...
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 3:29:00 PM by Madeleine Griffin
Yes, I abhor tattoos but both my daughter and son-in-law have, what could be considered, tasteful tattoos. In principle, I just don't like them. However, I know my daughter's heart and her work ethic. Both she and my son-in-law are dedicated, hard-working, delightful individuals. What a shame it would be if they were seeking employment and were rejected simply because of their tattoos. The loss on both sides of the coin is tremendous; they could lose a potential rewarding career, employers would lose out on two very valuable workers. So a lesson to people of my generation... you may dislike the body modifications, as I do, but please try to see beyond that. You will be genuinely surprised and rewarded.