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Tattoos at work ok?

Published 08 Aug 2017

It is a person’s right to do whatever they want with their own body.  Dying their hair, piercings and tattoos, but what are your rights as the Employer when it comes to their employment relationship with you?

It is important to note that you have the right to hire whomever you would like for your business, however it is unlawful to turn a suitable candidate down simply because of any of the prohibited grounds outlined in the Human Rights Act.

The Act outlines thirteen grounds of discrimination, including but not limited to age, race, ethnicity, religion, and sex. Any reasons that have not been covered by the Act are able to form part of the criteria used when selecting a new employee, so long as it is relevant to the position.

If you require specific qualities in an employee then those qualities must be essential to the work being done, this is lawful discrimination. An example of this could be if you require someone to undertake driving a forklift and there are driver weight restrictions as part of the machinery guidelines, it would be lawful to exclude candidates who do not meet this need due to health and safety requirements.

Recently the media has reported on a young male with a large face tattoo who claims he has been discriminated against by employers because of his tattoo. Having a company policy that restricts employees from having tattoos would not be unlawful in itself, however if the tattoo was for a religious or ethnic reason then you could inadvertently be discriminatory by saying it is not allowed.

As an employer it is rational to want to enforce a standard of presentation in the workplace, especially when there is client interaction involved, but you need to be careful as to match this with the context of your business and the type of work being carried out. Any policy in regards to personal presentation needs to be reasonable and enforced with fair procedure.

In order to protect yourself from a claim of discrimination you need to be careful, check that your wording in advertising a vacancy does not accidentally exclude any candidates based on the grounds prohibited by the Act; ensure that when you inform an unsuccessful candidate you don’t provide a reason for not selecting them; and if you are trying to impose standards of presentation in the workplace then ensure that they are reasonable for the type of work done and that they have been enforced fairly across all employees.