The Interviewee with the Dragon Tattoo
The Interviewee with the Dragon Tattoo

Imagine you’re in your office waiting for the last job applicant to walk in.


Never Ending Line of Interview Candidates no tattoo

Never ending line of interview candidates

You are discouraged after a long day of interviews with potential employees that lacked the necessary experience. Then, in walks your final candidate. She has a pierced eyebrow with a rather large ring and another stud on her bottom lip.

Otherwise, she is dressed professionally. She is articulate and appears to be self-confident. Best of all she has an excellent education and relevant job experience. Yet you hesitate. Why?

Because this is a conservative organization. Although there’s a strict dress code, it fails to list specific rules on an individual’s hair, tattoos makeup and piercings. She also seems to have a tattoo on her wrist.  Is this a valid concern? The answer is yes and … also no.


Confused yet? I don’t blame you. These types of decisions have become much more common and relevant in today’s workforce. Lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants and government workers do not always conform to traditional appearances in their personal lives. Yet people frequently modify their appearances for what some may describe as ‘outdated’ expectations within the work sphere. Suddenly that cute little rose tattoo on your wrist (or maybe it’s that “sleeve” tattoo) is cause for not getting hired. Even though you are qualified. Is this discrimination?


Sleeve tattoo at interview

Is a sleeve tattoo still a big deal?

Can an Employer Prohibit Tattoos and Piercings?

 According to Canadian Labour Lawyer Peter McLellan

  • An employer can (legally) choose not to hire someone based on any (visible) tattoos or piercings.
  • Often, there is no violation of the Human Rights Act.
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply in this particular situation unless the piercings or tattoos are part of an ethnic or tribal custom.
  • Since this preference or dress code is legal, it follows that the employment ads can clearly state that no applicants with visible tattoos or piercings will be considered. With that said, the saying “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is timely.

    Eyebrow piercings and tattoo at work

    A different type of eyebrow piercing

It’s up to “the employer” to make the decision to hire someone who doesn’t exactly look the part but is perfect for the job. If it’s just a tattoo, how do you decide?

  • Consider bona fide occupational requirements (BFORs). According to Wikipedia, in Canada, a BFOR “is a quality or an attribute that employers are allowed to consider when making decisions on the hiring and retention of employee. Further, it is a quality that when considered in other contexts would constitute discrimination and thus be in violation of civil rights employment law. Such qualifications must be listed in the employment offer.”
  • Today the presence of certain tattoos and piercings doesn’t mean the same as they did years ago.
  • Is it time to evolve? Maybe yes? Maybe no?
  • Stop and think about whether a person’s style is really that important to get the job done.
  • Do they interact with the public? Your clients?
  • Is it possible that someone tattooed and/or pierced could actually attract a new, broader demographic or fresh image for the business?
  • Plus, let’s face it, some work environments are still very conservative while others are much more relaxed


There’s more to consider on this topic. The discussion continues in part two of this mini-series in the blog post called Dressing the Part.

Note: For specific employment law advice, I strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer who is licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where you’re considering applying these issues to your workplace or hiring process.


In the meantime, if you have HR or career-related matters that you’d like to discuss, please contact me by email, phone, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss any of these topics in more detail.


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