Tattoo and piercing discrimination: the next human rights fight?

One Canadian woman hopes to see “body modifications” added to the human rights code, claiming she’s been discriminated against for her dyed hair and 22 piercings.

Tattoo and piercing discrimination: the next human rights fight?
The debate around tattoos in the workplace is still ongoing, but one Canadian woman wants to see tattoos and other body modification protected by the human rights code.
 
Edmonton-based Kendra Behringer claims she’s had a resume thrown out in front of her and other forms of discrimination, all because of her visible piercings. She’s launched a petition to have the Alberta Human Rights Act amended to include protection for people with body modifications such as piercings, tattoos.

Behringer told HRM that when she was looking for a customer service job many organizations had policies against visible piercings or non-natural looking dyed hair. She said the stigma against modifications such as piercings and tattoos was reducing as the practices become more mainstream.
 
“I’m trying to make the point that someone’s qualifications is what really matters,” she said. “Most people are worried it’s going to affect business but it won’t have the effect people think it will. No one is going to up and walk out of a store because their server has piercings or tattoos.”

Behringer claims that as long as body modifications don’t pose a health and safety risk on the job, they shouldn’t factor into an employer’s decision to hire.
 
“(People) could choose to get implants or a nose job and it wouldn’t affect their ability to get a job as long as it’s considered within the norm.”
 
Her petition has more than 500 signatures and she’s looking for a politician to sponsor her proposal, but lawyers say she’s unlikely to be successful. Companies can refuse to hire or fire non-unionized workers for any reason so long as it’s not connected to a human rights violation, according to Blaine Donais, president and founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute.
 
“Fairness is not a requirement and in fact employers can discriminate against people. What they can’t do is discriminate on the basis of certain prohibited grounds.”
 
Tattoos that are related to race or religion could fall under the protected grounds, but in general the courts have upheld employers’ rights to set a dress code as long. Some recent decisions have shown that a zero-tolerance policy that staff must cover all tattoos will not be upheld, especially if workers have to operate in hot temperatures where long sleeves would be uncomfortable or even dangerous.
 
Donais said there was a “slim to none” chance Ms. Behringer’s campaign would be successful.
 
Read more:
Tattooed worker returns but rules haven’t changed
Tattoo taboo: Can you ask workers to cover up?
 

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