Piercing discrimination

While you cannot legally discriminate against an employee for their gender, race or sexual orientation, there are no rules when it comes to one's looks – and a Kelowna woman is fed up with it.

The British Columbia Human Rights Code prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on grounds such as race, religion and disability.

However, the code does not mention whether employers can discriminate against employees who smoke or employees who have tattoos and piercings.

The Kelowna woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from her employer, proudly wears a few facial piercings and tattoos and wanted to share her story with Castanet to let people know that people are still constantly judged on their appearance, rather than their work ethic or ability.

It needs to stop, she said.

“I guarantee I am not the only one. It is a form of discrimination, even if it is a legal form of discrimination,” she said. “I enjoyed my job and atmosphere and it changed.”

The woman says she started at the company in May and the employer told her at the time that her piercings and tattoos were no issue.

“They told me it was no problem at all, that a previous employee had tattoos and it was no issue."

All of a sudden, it wasn't the same. She said it all changed when she got back from a week-long medical leave.

“My boss told me my septum ring scared the other employees. It really came out of left field because there was no issue with it at all, and then all of the sudden there was.”

While many companies and big corporations like Starbucks are relaxing their “dress code” or “appearance” policies, a lot of companies require their employees to dress or look a certain way.

“Knowing that my boss hired me based exactly on how I am on an everyday basis and then changed her mind is really hurtful. She wants me to be two different people essentially. She told me it is only at work, which is pretty much your whole day.”

Having recently moved to B.C., she was shocked to learn that it is not technically illegal to tell an employee to cover their tattoos or remove the piercings for work.

“B.C. has no legislation classifying it as discrimination at all, so it is either comply or quit,” she said.

To those that say she should just take them out for work and stop complaining, she says the piercings are part of who she is.

“It is a choice, but it still makes you the person who they are. Especially when you feel like someone has accepted you and then they turn around and it is not true, it is a really big blow,” she said.

“Anyone with tattoos or piercing is constantly dealing with it. Jobs, rental units, it is a struggle that is ongoing if you decide you don't want blonde hair and fit into the norm. As soon as you step outside the box, it becomes an issue.”

As far as her current situation, she said will be looking for a new job.

“I want to go into work knowing that the people that I work with accept who I am. It doesn't feel that way,” she said.

She said she shared this story because she knows she is not alone.

“B.C. has one of the biggest body-modification centres in Canada. On an everyday basis, people have tattoos and piercings and yet we are still so narrow minded as a society that we frown upon this and judge people." 

What do you think? Should B.C. protect against further forms of workplace discrimination? Send us a letter to [email protected]

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