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Do you have tattoos?  Do you trust professionals with tattoos? Fashion is constantly changing and more and more people have tattoos and are displaying them in the workplace. In her latest blog post Beth Traynor looks at a 2012 Labour Arbitration decision on whether or not a hospital could ban visible tattoos as part of its workplace dress code.

Would you trust a nurse or a personal care worker with a tattoo and body piercings? Come on now – be honest. If you said “no”, you’re not alone. A 2012 article in the Journal of Nursing Administration found that female patient care providers, in particular, are perceived as less confident, professional and efficient if they have body piercings.

As a result, employers sometimes try to impose dress codes prohibiting the display of “body art”. But arbitrators aren’t always co-operative! For example, Arbitrator Slotnick recently upheld a grievance claiming that this type of dress code is an unreasonable infringement on employees’ right to express themselves:

“As sideburns were controversial in 1972, so tattoos and piercings are now. Anyone who has taken a stroll on a summer day knows that tattoos are no longer confined to sailors, stevedores and strippers. Nevertheless, I accept that there are negative connotations associated with tattoos among a segment of the public, and I also accept that members of the hospital’s patient demographic – skewed toward the elderly – may be more likely to share those negative impressions. Piercings outside the earlobe have also experienced a surge in the past two or three decades. While I have more difficulty pinpointing which negative stereotypes they may invoke – and there was no evidence on this presented in the case — I am confident that some hospital patients might not be accustomed to nose rings, or jewelry in a pierced lip, eyebrow or tongue.

I accept, then, the hospital’s assertions that some patients might have a more negative first impression of a tattooed or pierced hospital staff member than they would of a staff member who was not tattooed or pierced. I also accept that the lack of complaints does not necessarily mean that there is no uneasiness felt by some patients. What I cannot accept is the hospital’s argument that there is a connection between these feelings and health care outcomes.

… [W]hile tattoos and piercings are not protected under human rights laws, the evidence in this case was clear that many of the employees regard those aspects of their appearance as an important part of their identity. The hospital could not and would not accede to the wishes of a patient who might be uncomfortable with a care provider based on the employee’s race or ethnic identity, even though some patients might harbour those types of prejudices. … Thus, in my view, the patient is not being “forced” to accept tattoos and piercings; the patient is merely receiving care from workers who reflect the diversity that one would expect in a big-city hospital. That includes employees who choose to decorate their bodies in ways that will not appeal to everybody. It is not patients who are being “forced,” but rather employees who are being told to suppress aspects of their identity that are important to them.”

Read the full decision here: The Ottawa Hospital v. CUPE, Local 4000, 2013 CanLII 643.

But now the important question. Can you really trust a LAWYER with a tattoo?…  😉

If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please contact Beth Traynor at [email protected] or call 519-672-2121.

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