I read something recently which talked about how visibly tattooed people and those with body piercings, with the exception of a number of ‘hipster’
employers who may celebrate a certain look as part of their marketing,
generally will suffer diminished chances of obtaining employment and the
article went on to explore the unconscious biases that people have when it comes to this issue. Now I have to declare a certain interest in the
subject, given that I have two tattoos of my own, albeit that I very
sensibly put them in locations which mean no-one gets to see them unless I choose. (Incidentally, the tattooist informed me that his best customer was actually a solicitor who, underneath his shirt, was completely covered in tattoos, albeit that they stopped at his cuffs and neckline so they couldn’t be seen in court).
In the article that I saw the researcher had interviewed a number of hiring
managers to discover their attitudes and found that it was prevalent that
visible tattoos and piercings were frowned upon and that employers worried about how customers would react and how the way somebody looked fitted with the image that they were trying to project. Thus those with tattoos and piercings were more likely to be judged acceptable for non-customer-facing roles.
From a legal perspective, the disability discrimination legislation makes it
clear that tattoos and piercings are excluded from the definition of a
disability so cannot be used to claim the protection of that legislation. I
don’t see why certain tattoos and body adornments could not fall within the regulations protecting people from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, but the artwork concerned would have to be connected with that religious belief and have some link with the central tenets of the
particular belief in question. For example, I could imagine that an
Employment Tribunal might protect someone of Maori descent from
discrimination if they were treated in a less favourable manner because they had marked their body with the traditional markings used in that culture. But that does leave those who, like me, just like to look a certain way relatively unprotected.
I can also see that generational attitudes to this area are changing. Could somebody argue in the future that their generation was more likely to participate in body art and adornment than another particular age group in order to connect the treatment that they received with their age? I suppose they could but the employer is able to objectively justify their age discriminatory treatment and I think the judges are likely to side with employers.