Visible tattoos becoming acceptable in the workplace

Visible tattoos becoming acceptable in the workplace

In Quebec more and more companies are changing their dress code to allow employees to show their tattoos, including Starbucks and Tim Horton’s this fall.

“About time!” Exclaims Darwin Herrera, an employee of Starbucks in the Rue Saint-Denis area who can now proudly display his coffee bean tattoo. No more sweaters with long sleeves that he had to wear even during a heat wave.

Previously, Starbucks employees had to cover their tattoos so they were not visible, something that gave rise to many complaints from them.

According to Darwin Herrera, about half of his colleagues wear tattoos.

New regulations at Starbucks, introduced Monday, however, indicates that the tattoos in the neck or face are not allowed.

Also, ‘hate’ tattoos or ones with obscene messages are prohibited, which is similar to McDonald’s and Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons have accepted visible tattoos since last September, McDonald’s changed its dress code in the same way in 2012.

Employers know they must be careful before banning tattoos since the courts have ruled in favour of an early childhood educator in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.

Over the last five years or so, customers to tattoo studios have become increasingly diverse and dare to to get tattooed in more prominent places, says Dominic Grenier of Tattoo Royal in Montreal.

Mr. Grenier said that in some more formal sectors, it is still taboo. He gives the example of a client who works in the financial world and must cover themselves from head to toe.

Darwin Herrera believes that Starbucks customers are not shocked by his tattoo.

“I had comments about it before when I had to hide it underneath a bandage.” He sometimes wore the bandage on his wrist and it drew more attention, he believes.

“Compliments, I get a lot. And even from people aged 60 and over”, says Josée Boivin, a waitress at the brewery Benelux. Her tattoos have never stopped her from being hired, she said.

In fact, the only time she takes the trouble to hide her artwork is at the airport, not to encourage a customs search, and when she is looking for an apartment.

Employers do not have the right to require employees to hide their tattoos if they are not offensive, says an expert in human rights.

According to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which now includes tattoos, says Anne-Marie Delagrave.

In 2009, the Superior Court of Quebec in Chicoutimi reprimanded Nadine Bélisle, a centre for early childhood education employee. She was required to cover the dragon tattoo she had on her back.

“Tattooing nowadays is a phenomenon which is prevalent in all strata of society, the judgment stated. If at one time you could associate people with ties to criminal activity, this is no longer the case.”

However, the employer has the freedom of trade. Thus, certain violations of freedom of expression are justified. It depends on the context and the type of job, says Ms. Delagrave.

A business that tries to dismiss an employee who has much of the face tattooed has a greater chance of winning than if the employee has a small star on the cheek. If the tattoo is offensive or scares customers, the employer can argue that it is no longer reasonable.

“It is never black or white,” says Delagrave. For example, in 2008, a Laval bus driver had a tattoo on right side of his face. The transportation company demanded that he have the tattoo removed.

The arbitrator found that the employer had the right to prohibit tattoos on the face of its drivers.

However, the arbitrator ordered the company to reinstate the driver as they had no dress policy on tattoos and it would have been very painful and expensive to have surgery to remove a tattoo.

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