Tattoo Discrimination – Can an employer ‘discriminate’ against an employee because of a tattoo?
At the moment there is little to stop an employer from refusing to employ someone who has a tattoo, whether it is visible or not. However, there is a growing campaign to make tattoo discrimination unlawful and bring it in line with race, religion or even disability discrimination.
The BBC has produced some interesting facts about tattoo discrimination and have reported that a consultant with a firm in Milton Keynes had her contract terminated because of a small tattoo of a butterfly on her foot ,which the company claimed had contravened their no visible ink policy. Others have also lost their jobs, take for instance the Yorkshire mum who was dismissed from her job as a waitress because she had a tattoo that stated “everything happens for a reason“. There is perhaps a certain amount of irony in that dismissal.
The law is pretty silent on the issue, so there is unlikely to be any problem if you decide to dismiss a person who choses to contravene a No Ink policy, keeping in mind the caveat that there could be an issue if the person could show that the tattoo was there for a religious reason. But in a world where 1 in 5 britons has a tattoo, again these are figure from the BBC, there may become a time when employers have to take a pragmatic view on tattoos and their acceptability.
Should tattoos be a protected characteristic in the same manner as race, religion, disability or even age, making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against the wearer of the tattoo, perhaps not, simply because the tattoos were a choice rather than a fact of birth or culture. But it is clear that employers will need to take a reasoned approach to ink, rather than an outright ban, if they are to source the most suitable staff for their business.
Perhaps we should start looking at ginger hair or left handed people as the next protected characteristic, I remember being treated differently at school because I was left handed and even ‘forced’ to write with my right hand while at primary school, but then again that was the 50s and now there are even shops for us southpaws.