June 18, 2009
Tattooed Need Not Apply
“Deborah Connor, a clerk at the Hub Folding Box Co., sued her employer for gender discrimination and retaliation. Although a male employee was not required to cover his Navy tattoo, Connor was told to cover a heart-shaped tattoo on her forearm or be terminated. The company was concerned that customers who saw Connor's tattoo would have a negative reaction because a tattoo on a woman ‘symbolized that she was either a prostitute, on drugs, or from a broken home’” (Pechman, 2005). Unfortunately, this kind of work place discrimination is happening all over North America. Many employers are holding on to the old stereotype of people with tattoos, judging them as criminals, pirates, bikers, circus sideshow freaks and generally degenerate beings (Ponte & Gillian, 2007). Although many of the noted stereotypes are drawn to tattoos, there is another side; “Tattoos arise from a rich cultural history dating back 5,000 years” (Franklin-Barbajosa, 2004). Furthermore, Franklin-Barbajosa (2004) claims ancient tribes may have used tattoos for healing, Britons would wear them like badges of honour during war, warriors during the crusades would have the Jerusalem cross tattooed on them so that if they died in battle they could be given a Christian burial, and during the mid 1900s tattoos were mainly for fringe cultures, sailors, and World War II veterans.
“Tattooing is enjoying a big renaissance around the world” (Franklin-Barbajosa, 2004). Health Canada (2006) states that “U.S. studies show that the number of women with tattoos quadrupled between 1960 and 1980”, making them the fastest growing demographic of people getting tattooed in America (Ponte & Gillian, 2007). In addition, another study from the Pew Research Center (2007) claims 40% of Americans age 26-40 have a tattoo (p. 23). Many of these people are getting tattooed to make themselves feel more beautiful, or as a statement of self identity (Horne & Knox & Zusman & Zusman, 2007). Accordingly, when a Californian defence attorney used a tattoo to cover up a scar from a life threatening emergency surgery, she chose “something that was beautiful and majestic and evocative of grandeur and strength and yet at the same time, something that was very beautiful” (PBS, 2003). So with the population of tattooed people growing, why are employers still imposing harsh dress codes on employees, causing them unnecessary grievances? Is it fair for employers to be diminishing employees’ freedom of speech and expression, or religion and belief, for the sake of “superficial grooming and attire standards?” (Ponte & Gillian, 2007). Employers need to start looking beyond the tattoos to see the potentially great employee.
“It is generally recognized that employers are free to set reasonable dress codes and grooming standards that are business-justified and applied in a non discriminatory manner” (Pechman, 2005). According to the Washington State Future Business Leaders of America (2004), the professional dress code for men consists of: sports coat or business suit, dress shirt (tucked in) tie, belt, dress socks and coordinating dress shoes. For women the dress code is: business suit or blazer; blouse; slacks; suit skirt or dress (hem no more than 2” above the knee); closed toe dress shoes or boot (heel no higher than 2”). The dress code also notes “NO visible tattoos” (p. 2). Should it matter what is on your skin if your dress is professional? While dress codes vary from place to place of employment, some other variations include business casual and uniforms. What happens when the uniform does not cover the tattoos? This situation is demonstrated by a lawsuit between Riggs v. City of Fort Worth. As a bicycle patrol officer, Riggs was forced to wear long sleeves and pants while on duty (other officers in his unit were permitted to wear short sleeves and pants), so not to belittle “the...