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Tattoo you! Do employers have the right to ban body piercing and visible tattoos?

Back in the day, tattoos were the province of sailors, prisoners, truck drivers and goths. Nowadays it seems like every twenty-something has one. But does one have the right to display one’s body art at work?

According to the Fair Work Commission, the answer is “maybe”, up to a point.

A NSW Leagues Club has introduced a policy banning body piercings and visible body art on the front of house staff, on the basis they do not “fit the image” of the club.

 

Workplace

The club began consulting employees on the new policy in January last year, and did not introduce it until October 2013. It allows for nose piercings that are "stud style, small and co-ordinated", but bans piercings on other parts of the face, "including the lip, eyebrow and neck".

However, a waitress at the club defied the policy and continued to wear her lip ring to work.

The FWC ruled it did not have the power to deal with the issue, but it did not stop thejudge from taking “judicial notice” of the change in dress standards, with the judge observing “that the dress and appearance norms of contemporary Australians, particularly young people, are very different to the community expectations of say, the 1960s or even the 1980s.”

“Given current standards, it seems to me to be somewhat unrealistic that she is being denied her right to self-expression, when it was never an issue previously, and where her original contract of employment at least, implicitly, did not prevent her from doing so.”

The judge added it was “somewhat ironic” a football club was introducing such a policy when the majority of professional footballers were “covered in tattoos”.

He indicated that his comments should not be read as suggesting that the club could not introduce and insist on compliance with policies, provided they were "lawful and reasonable", meaning “at the point of hiring, a prospective employee would be made aware of the Club's requirements and if there was a subsequent breach, there may well be justifiable disciplinary ramifications."

But he said that given the circumstances, he foresaw "difficulties" for the Club if it sought to discipline the waiter.

Tara Moriarty, the spokeswoman of United Voice, which represented the waitress in the case, said tattoos and piercings do not affect hospitality employees’ ability to work.

“Most people in their twenties have tattoos. Piercings are the same. If that’s how they were employed there would be no people in hospitality. We’re going to back members who want to pursue self-expression,” Ms Moriarty added.

The waitress who challenged the policy has returned to work wearing her lip ring.

Well-documented policies and procedures help staff to understand how an organisation ‘works’. They also minimise business and legal risks. iHR Australia can design and develop individual policies, procedures and handbooks specific to your organisation’s needs.

 

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