Can I be sacked for a tattoo?
A 21 year old woman applying for work as an airline flight attendant was told she was suitable for the job but then the interviewer noticed she had a small tattoo of an anchor on her ankle.
She was told she could not be employed as the airline had a no-tattoo policy. She could come back if she had it removed. Was the airline legally in the right?
Can an employee be sacked legally if they arrive at work proudly displaying a brand new tattoo?
Nowadays one in seven Australians has a tattoo, according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Is it work discrimination to act against a person with a tattoo? What if the tattoo is hidden under long sleeves or long pants?
What if the tattoo is on the neck or face and can’t be hidden? What about facial piercings?
Lawyer Nathan Luke, an expert in workplace law at Stack s Law Firm, says there is no law protecting an employee from being sacked if they turn up with a new tattoo, a metal bar in their nose or purple hair.
“If you work in a place where such things are accepted then fine, but it’s up to the employer.
“There is no law preventing employers banning tattoos in the workplace, or sacking someone who suddenly turns up with one,” Mr Luke said.
“Employers are entitled to demand a certain standard of appearance from their staff to maintain the company image.
“So long as employers make their expectations on appearance at work clear to employees before they accept the job, preferably in writing, then the law is usually on their side.”
Mr Luke says it’s wise for companies to get legal advice on how best to formulate this policy to avoid potential claims of unfair dismissal. If a firm doesn’t have a declared policy, then the employee could claim they didn’t know tattoos were a sacking offence.
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, ethnic, national or social origin.
“If a person has a tattoo for religious, ethnic or cultural reasons, such as a Pacific Islander or Maori, it could count as discrimination to reject them from a job because of the tattoo. In that case the law may be able to assist them,” Mr Luke said.
“However it needs a person with specialist experience in workplace law as each case has its own individual circumstances.”