Woman with facial piercings

Are tattoos and piercings a human right?

Elizabeth Bromstein|

An Edmonton woman has launched a campaign to make it illegal to “discriminate” against people with body modifications – something the National Post reports would require an amendment to the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The Post reports that Kendra Behringer (not pictured), 24, has 22 visible piercings and is complaining that she is being discriminated against by potential employers because of them. She says her piercings, which adorn her lips, ears and eyebrows, among other things, are an act of “self-expression.”

“You never know how good someone’s going to be at the job, unless you look at their credentials instead of just looking at their face,” she said, according to the CBC.

The petition states:

“Someone’s hair colour, style, or body mods to [sic] not reflect who they are as a person, their capabilities, or what they will be like as an employee. Most places will not hire you if you have hair colour that looks unnatural, a haircut considered extreme (like a mohawk or a man with long hair), if you have visible piercings or tattoos. Why? For no other reason than it is unappealing to many people and because some people assume people that look like that are degenerates/delinquents with bad morals. That is discrimination. An obese person may not be appealing to many people, but that would be discrimination to not hire them for that reason. One may argue that customers won’t shop where a person who has tattoos/piercings works. Well in this world some customers might avoid a place because an employee is gay. So why is one illegal to refuse a job to and not the other?”

It had 836 signatures last time I checked.

It’s probably obvious to most of us that you can’t argue that your piercings are a mode of self-expression and then argue that they don’t reflect who you are as a person.

It could be that flawed logic and an inability to reason are more detrimental to one’s chances on the job market than a penchant for over-accessorizing.

Candidates need to take a step back and look at how they might fit into the bigger picture of an organization, rather than expecting the organization to arrange itself around them. That level of self-entitlement is a major red flag for employers.

Even though I have some tattoos myself, I absolutely respect an employer’s right to ask me to cover them.

If you can’t cover piercings, but you can take them out. You don’t have to. But it’s illogical to claim that your choice not to do so says nothing about you as a person and that an employer doesn’t have the right to make a decision based on the available information.

Interestingly, none of the articles I read said what sort of job Behringer is seeking.

For many positions that aren’t client facing – or that aren’t in markedly conservative industries – if your skills really do outshine your appearance, you’ll find a job somewhere with someone. Skills like programming or user experience design are going to trump any reservations about your piercings. If you’re a fantastic writer or a fantastic engineer, you’ll find a job. Be the best at something and you can probably wear whatever you want.

Lawyers reportedly say Behringer’s chances of establishing discrimination are slim to non-existent.

Blaine Donais, president and founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute, told the Post, “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.”

He said that asking workers to cover up tattoos or piercings is a “reasonable limit” on their freedom.

The majority of Workopolis readers agree with that statement, according to our recent poll.

Asked, “Should employers maintain the right to require staff to cover tattoos?” 61.5% if you said “Yes.”

In discussion, many seem to think that an anti-tattoo bias is outdated and silly. There’s some truth to this, given their current pervasiveness. But to suggest that we dismiss everyone else’s opinions based on this argument is not ideal.

Candidates, if they are serious about finding a job, need to understand that organizations have a lot to consider. A company has clients, shareholders, and a brand, among other things, to think about.

It isn’t just about you or your piercings.

Follow Workopolis



Category: Industry News & Insights, Management, Recruitment Challenges,