Is It Legal For Your Employer To Fire You Over Your Tattoos?

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Gone are the days when only bikies and sailors marked up their skin. Tattoos are now considered a legitimate type of art that you can carry around with you to showcase proudly. You'd think that modern workplaces are generally quite accepting of body art so long as they're discrete or covered up. But if your employer had an issue with your tattoo, is it legal for them to fire you over it? Let's find out.

In a 2012 study by the National Health and Medical Research Council, it found that one in seven Australians have at least one tattoo (although many people admitted to regretting their decision to ink). We can only assume most of them are employed and you'd hope that an individual's decision to decorate their body, albeit permanently, wouldn't impact their career.

This is a topic that's close to my heart because I do have visible tattoos on my body. Thankfully none of my employers have had an issue with that… yet. But if a workplace doesn’t see your tattoo as harmless embellishments, can they fire you or refuse to hire you because of it? Is that considered discrimination?

According to the Fair Work Commission, dismissing or refusing to hire a worker over tattoos is acceptable. As a Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) spokesperson pointed out to News.com.au:

"Physical appearance is not a protected attribute under the Fair Work Act… It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin."

Last month, the FWO reiterated this after ruling that Qantas and Emirates was within their rights to not offer flight attendant Chontelle McGoldrick a job over her small ankle tattoo.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers noted that: "There is currently no national law preventing employers from banning tattoos in the workplace, or from refusing a job applicant purely because of a tattoo."

It is recommended that if you do sport tattoos and you're looking for a job, you should get familiar with the company policies prospective employers have regarding tattoos, piercings and hairstyles since they are not covered by anti-discrimination laws.

If you're currently employed and have your tattoos out on display, fingers crossed your workplace doesn't bring in a ban on body art. But if an employer brings in a rule against tattoos with the intention of forcing you out or are applied in a discriminatory way, then you may have grounds to take your dismissal up with the FWO.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


Comments

    I got a PA piercing..
    My boss made me take it out... he said it was scaring the customers.

    In America most employers seem to hate tattoos that show when you're wearing your work uniform. It always depends on what your position is but I know a lot of people that get or want to get their tattoo removed to seem more professional. A lot of people nowadays are going away from laser removal and opting for home removal methods.

    Meh, I have no problem with this, your appearance in a face to face job where you are dealing with customers directly is important. People, rightly or wrongly, will make their mind up based on looks just as much as by attitude. This can be a detriment to the company if they are losing customers because they'd rather go elsewhere.

    *discreet, unless you mean a stand-alone piece is A-OK but a sleeve is out of the question.

    As for visible ink, facial tattoos and client-facing corporate roles don't gel. Apart from that it seems nit-picky when trousers and a long-sleeved shirt can cover nearly everything. Not hiring on the basis of an ankle tattoo seems ludicrous, particularly since the uniform that the male flight attendants wear definitely won't require flashing some leg.

    Last edited 23/08/16 12:58 pm

      Unless you are the NZ cultural advisor, Rangi McLean

        Good point, I hadn't even considered that. I wouldn't like to be the company trying to enforce an anti-tattoo policy against tā moko, I'm pretty sure that wouldn't fly.

    Presumably why most tattooists counsel people against face, neck or hand tattoos.

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