Do I have a bee in my bonnet ……..

…About the butterfly tattoo on the foot? Well, quite possibly. I wrote a comment in The Times last week on the same subject.  Agency worker, Ms Perkins, had her contract terminated because she failed to cover up the butterfly tattoo on her foot.  She said it was ‘ridiculous’ and was quoted in The Times (10 July 2014) saying she was going to seek legal advice to see if the employer’s action constituted ‘discrimination under inclusion and diversity laws’.

The employer, Salisbury FM, had introduced a ‘no visible tattoos at work’ policy and Ms Perkins was clearly in breach of it. Ms Perkins had only been engaged for 5 months as an agency worker, and was therefore not protected against any unfair dismissal – but was there any discrimination?

There is no current law that directly prohibits discrimination against employees with tattoos on show in the workplace, in the same way as there is no protection in the world of work for individuals with particular hairstyles, body piercings, brightly dyed hair or any other unusual visual expressions of personality. Unless of course the employee claims their reason for expressing their unusual art form/hairstyle or piercing is for reasons connected with their protected characteristic eg. Religion or philosophical belief.

If that is the case then any blanket policy may be indirectly discriminatory and an individual could have a claim (if they are placed at a particular disadvantage) unless the employer can objectively justify their reason for having the policy.

Employers should consider how much body art they are willing to have on display at work and introduce a policy that is aligned to the work culture and professional image of the company. They should ensure they can justify it and apply it consistently throughout the organisation.

Employees thinking about getting a tattoo – should consider carefully about where they put it. If it can’t be covered, they need to be prepared to accept the consequences because as the law currently stands, the decision of whether ‘to see tattoo or not to see tattoo’, lays firmly in the hands of the employer.

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